THE INVESTIGATORS: Officer renews firearms qualification after questions raised at public meeting

THE INVESTIGATORS: Officer renews firearms qualification after questions raised at public meeting

FRENCH SETTLEMENT, La. (WAFB) - The mayor of French Settlement says she has questions for an officer in the village police department after a resident accused him of being behind on his training.

”As mayor, it’s my responsibility to protect the public and the village assets and it puts the village in a very awkward position,” said Mayor Rhonda Lobell.

Each officer in every department across the state is required to take a certain amount of training courses and re-qualify each year on their firearms. When the mayor asked whether officers were current in a public meeting on July 8, she says she was shocked by the response. Captain Michael Rhoads confirms to WAFB he admitted in the meeting that his firearms qualifications may be out of date. The mayor says she was in the process of changing insurance companies and part of that requires that officers are current on all training. When she reached out to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement (LCLE), according to their records, the last time officer Rhoads qualified on his department-issued firearm was about five years ago in 2015.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the mayor if that was concerning for her based on the number of years the officer’s qualifications were not current.

“Extremely. You know, from that initial record, it was very concerning,” Mayor Lobell answered. “From a risk management standpoint, you know, is he carrying a gun and not certified? It’s just all those questions that come up.”

The 9News Investigators took those questions to LCLE. Bob Wertz, who oversees officer training statewide, tells WAFB the officer is POST certified, but based on what their records show, his firearms qualifications are up to date now, but prior to that meeting, they weren’t.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Wertz whether a large gap in that history would put the village at risk.

“It could be,” Wertz said. “We understand that some insurance companies are asking a lot of these municipal agencies as well as sheriff’s departments to make sure that all their officers are certified, that their certifications are up to date, as well as their firearms and if they aren’t, they may elect not to underwrite the department.”

Based on that answer, it means if an officer who is not properly qualified gets into a situation where they have to use their gun, the insurance company may not cover it and instead it could fall on the taxpayers to foot the bill. That’s a risk Mayor Lobell says their village of roughly 1,100 residents simply cannot afford.

”I know what I need to give to the insurance company and quite frankly, if this is presented to them, I’d probably be faced with a notice of cancellation,” said Mayor Lobell.

Officer Rhoads calls the situation a non-issue and says the questions over his qualifications were nothing more than an ambush. Rhoads tells WAFB he was already in the process of getting his firearms current before that meeting earlier in July. He says he did re-qualify just days after the meeting and also claims he did qualify both with Louisiana State Police in 2017 and with the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office in 2018. When WAFB reached out to both agencies, neither of them had a record of it. LSP did have a record of him training with a rifle in 2017, but not with a handgun, which is what’s required through LCLE.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Rhoads if he was informed of the missing records when he reached out to LSP and LPSO.

“I haven’t check with them,” Rhoads answered.

When asked if he had any proof that the firearms training did occur with LSP or LPSO, Rhoads indicated he did not. According to LCLE, the agency keeps track of too many departments across the state to notify an officer when their qualifications are not up to date. Ultimately, it falls on the officer to make sure their paperwork and training are current. Rhoads admits he should have done a better job of tracking it over the years.

”I can’t blame that on anybody else but me,” Rhoads said. “Whatever certifications or qualifications there are, ultimately, that’s my responsibility, not anybody else’s.”

This is not the first time the mayor and the police department have butted heads. They have publicly disagreed over the budget, GPS devices inside the police units, and other issues. Rhoads believes this issue is one that should have never been brought up in a public meeting.

”If she [the mayor] really had a concern about it, come ask us, but if you want to do it in a town meeting, it sounds like a touch of vengeance here,” Rhoads added.

The mayor tells WAFB there was nothing personal about her questions and says her only concern is for the taxpayers of the village.

”It’s my job as a mayor to look at these things, to understand it, and to understand what’s going on in the village and to protect the village and that’s what I’m doing,” said Mayor Lobell.

LCLE tells WAFB the department was informed it need to stay on top of its records and suggests it appoint a training coordinator to ensure everything remains current.

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