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Louisiana state police leader retiring amid rising criticism

Louisiana state police leader retiring amid rising criticism

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's state police superintendent announced Wednesday that he will retire from the job he's held for nine years after coming under increasing criticism for his leadership of the agency.

Col. Mike Edmonson, the longest-serving state police leader in Louisiana's history, said he's leaving to end the upheaval at the Department of Public Safety, and said the decision was in the best interest of his family and the agency.

"This isn't about an individual. It's about an organization moving forward," Edmonson said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think it's time for me to move on."

The state police leader delivered his retirement paperwork to Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday morning. Edmonson's last day at work will be March 24.

Concerns had been raised about thousands of dollars his agency spent on a trip to a law enforcement conference in California and about a nonprofit trooper organization's donations to political candidates despite bans on political contributions from troopers.

Although one of Louisiana's U.S. senators had urged Edmonson to leave the job as controversy swirled, the state police chief said Edwards did not ask him to step down.

"I was not asked and did not resign. I retired, and I retired with the blessings and support of the governor. We've had several conversations over the last few days and not one time did the governor ask me to resign," Edmonson said.

"My head's held high, and I walk out of here at my own request," he said.

Edmonson has been with the state police for more than three decades, starting as a patrolman and later overseeing the public affairs office, commanding security at the state Capitol and managing the training academy. He was a familiar face to LSU football fans for years because of his longtime role as security escort for the team's head coach.

He was appointed superintendent by Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2008. Edwards, a Democrat, kept him in the position, an unusual decision.

An amiable and confident figure, Edmonson was the face of state police responses to three major hurricanes, massive flooding, a movie theater shooting in Lafayette, protests after the police shooting of Alton Sterling and the ambush-style killings of three law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge. He did not shy away from the attention in such sensitive situations.

The exiting superintendent hopes his tenure will be remembered for bolstering working relationships between the state police and other law enforcement agencies, boosting trooper salaries, using new technology tools in crime-fighting and working to combat human trafficking.

But Edmonson has been under fire from blogs and a social media site allegedly run by anonymous troopers accusing him of misconduct and mishandling agency finances.

The criticism grew louder and more mainstream since February when The Advocate newspaper reported state police spent thousands on overtime and expenses for several troopers who drove to an October conference in San Diego with a state SUV, diverting to a Las Vegas casino resort and the Grand Canyon on the way.

In response, Edwards said his administration has an auditor digging into state police travel spending. Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, asked Louisiana's legislative auditor to review trip expenses in the agency during Edmonson's tenure as superintendent, saying he was concerned about "alleged misuse of state taxpayer funding." U.S. Sen. John Kennedy called on Edmonson to resign, saying he's wasted money while the state struggles with budget gaps.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana State Troopers Association — an organization of current and retired troopers — and its executive director were fined $5,000 by the state ethics board earlier this year for funneling $17,500 in illegal political contributions to Edwards, state lawmakers and others.

The organization is an independent entity, but says it represents 97 percent of commissioned officers — who are overseen by Edmonson.

Those aren't the first controversies during Edmonson's tenure.

In 2014, the superintendent was engulfed in a political firestorm when lawmakers passed a retirement hike that would have benefited Edmonson and one other trooper. The change, which would have cost $359,000, passed without public scrutiny on the last day of the legislative session. After the criticism, Edmonson and the trooper said they wouldn't accept the increased benefit, and a judge declared the pension hike unconstitutional, saying it wasn't passed properly.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte