By David Soublet, Sr.
Lifelong Louisiana residents are bombarded regularly with data about how our state measures up poorly to others in multiple ways. Public education, health care and poverty level rankings are three of the more commonly cited areas of failure, with Louisiana always near the bottom. Add decertification of rogue law enforcement officers to this state’s woeful shortcomings.
Decertification means revoking a law enforcement officer’s credentials. That prevents them from joining other jurisdictions when convicted of serious crimes or being fired for alleged serious crimes. In Louisiana, some of the crimes defined as “serious” are violence/excessive use of force, theft, sexual assault or indecency, and malfeasance. The convictions must pertain to crimes committed while on the job. This requirement potentially allows many a rogue cop to keep their job.
The Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) https://lcle.la.gov/programs/post/ has the authority, through the state legislature, to cite cops for decertification. POST is comprised of a 12 member council, including Attorney General Jeff Landry, and 4 employees. Per a recent Times Picayune study, there are roughly 23,000 law enforcement officers in the state. But POST has decertified only 3 officers in the past 6 years. Even more alarming, between its establishment in 1976 and 2016 (40 years), POST stripped only 6 officers of their credentials. In 2017, lawmakers passed legislation giving POST extended authority to cite cops for decertification for excessive force and domestic violence as well. However, use of that authority by POST was left as an option, not mandatory. POST apparently rarely exercises that additional authority, and considers decertification only when a felony conviction is put before them.
POST lacks commitment regarding their part in cop oversight. Still the agency relies heavily on local police authorities to submit reports on their members who might warrant decertification per current law. However, its reported that those local agencies face no penalties for failure to report. A 2021 law gives POST the power to fine an agency $ 500 per day for failure to report fired officers. POST has not issued one fine yet. With agencies such as the New Orleans Police Department and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office facing widely acknowledged chronic underemployment levels, self-reporting rogue officers to POST for decertification is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Should the general public really care about cop decertification? The answer is a resounding YES. Inattention to these matters allow bad officers to not only stay employed and commit additional crime. And they can be easily re-employed by other law enforcement agencies. It perpetuates the lack of trust the community has for law enforcement in general, specifically police officers. Former NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas says that by not including dishonesty as a criteria for decertification creates problems. Prosecutors are hampered because those officers lack credibility in court, resulting in violent criminals being set free.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, almost 800 police officer licenses are revoked annually. Their regulatory agency has an investigative director and 12 investigators in field offices around the state. The infractions for which decertification can occur in Georgia include offenses involving “moral turpitude”, “unethical conduct”, and even “violating administrative rules”. They don’t twiddle their thumbs waiting for felony convictions.