How far is it from a cop accepting a free cup of coffee to billing the state for six figures in questionable overtime? Not as far as you might think.
Accepting a little bit can always lead to accepting a little bit more," State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves admitted Monday, when speaking to the Baton Rouge Press Club.
Ever since the 1972 Knapp Commission Report on New York City Police corruption, courses on law enforcement have emphasized the short distance between sipping a gratuitous cup of coffee, and becoming a "grass eater," or ultimately a "meat eater." That report defined "grass eaters" as those who "simply accept the payoffs that the happenstances of police work throw their way," with "meat-eaters" being "those police officers who aggressively misuse their police powers for personal gain."
And in fact, Reeves says, cadets are learning about gratuities and standards of conduct this very week.
There is a class on that in the State Police Academy, that talks about the snowball effect that takes place. And certainly we try to school them in those matters.”
Louisiana State Police finds itself "under a cloud" currently, Reeves acknowledges. Late last week, The Advocate's Jim Mustian previewed a soon-to-be-released legislative audit alleging Reeves' predecessor Mike Edmonson "used State Police role for personal gain." Edmonson resigned last spring following revelations of several troopers taking a 2016 "side trip" to Las Vegas at taxpayers' expense. And last month, a series of reports by New Orleans TV station WVUE alleged some troopers collected large amounts of questionable overtime pay through the Local Agency Compensated Enforcement program, or LACE.
Citing ongoing investigations, Reeves wouldn't comment on the specific allegations or the individuals involved, but he did say: "Upon finding out of the allegations, we immediately stopped LACE. And until there's some meaningful change that can take place in the program, then we'll see if we're going to open the program back up."
LACE is funded by district attorneys, who contract with state police to provide extra patrols on local stretches of state highways. Proceeds from the tickets those troopers write help fund DAs and public defenders, with the DAs paying for the troopers' overtime and mileage.
Further, Reeves says there's been a major change in how alleged infractions by troopers are being handled internally. Formerly, the superintendent alone decided if and what disciplinary action to mete out. Now a disciplinary review panel meets, deliberates and hands down disciplinary action.
I wanted to make sure there was no way I could say, 'For this trooper right here, we're going to handle it this way, and I don't particularly care for that trooper; but for this trooper over here, that I'm friends with, we're going to handle it another way,'" Reeves explains.
Despite what he calls "dark days" for Louisiana State Police, Reeves, who took command of June 13, says he doesn't believe the agency is fostering a culture of corruption.
Let me make this very clear: "Every success that our agency has can be attributed to the men and women that make up our agency — and to them alone. But any failures will rest solely on my shoulders, and I will take responsibility for that."