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Gov. Edwards Addresses Police Reform And NOPD Use Of Rubber Bullets

Trey Couvillion
LSU Manship School News Service

With Tropical Storm Cristobal in the rearview, Gov. John Bel Edwards spent most of his Monday press conference discussing the state’s ongoing fight against COVID-19 and widespread protests against police violence following the death of George Floyd.

New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Shaun Ferguson acknowledged Monday that officers fired rubber projectiles at protesters attempting to cross the Crescent City Connection last week. Edwards said he has spoken with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell about the use of force.

“The chief has indicated to the best of his knowledge, those projectiles were not authorized,” Edwards said. “There is an investigation ongoing. He’s trying to figure out exactly how many officers [fired rubber projectiles], who they were and why they were used.”

Edwards said he would not comment further on the incident until NOPD completes its investigation, but the governor praised the vast majority of protesters who have “appropriately exercised their First Amendment rights.”

“They shouldn’t have to worry about the hand of the law enforcement being too heavy,” he added.

Edwards said he does not support the calls to defund police departments that have become a rallying cry for protesters across the country, but said he spoke with State Senator Cleo Fields last week as the Baton Rouge Democrat developed a proposal for sweeping reforms.

“Obviously, we need to take a look at the situation here in Louisiana, as they’re doing across the country, to see if we can do some things that just make sense,” Edwards said.

Edwards, who comes from a law enforcement family, said the state needs to take a closer look at law enforcement hiring practices, training and use of force policies.

“I think anyone would have to acknowledge that the frequency of the unreasonable application of force across the country is growing,” Edwards said. “It’s unacceptable.”

Fields plans to file his bill during the 2021 Regular Legislative Session.

State legislators can only file bills this session on the 41-item agenda laid out by Republican legislative leaders.

So far, Rep. Edmond Jordan (D-Baton Rouge) has filed the only bill aimed at addressing police misconduct — a measure that would strip law enforcement officers’ qualified immunity from civil penalties stemming from their use of force on the job.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.