A special police detail that patrols downtown to keep the peace on busy weekend nights might be nixed if more money can’t be found to pay for it, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said Monday.
Officers are paid overtime to work downtown each weekend, and the City-Parish Council last year cut the downtown overtime budget from $456,500 to $245,500 to free up money for a police pay raise.
Craft told a council liaison committee on Monday that he has trimmed hours and staffing for the downtown patrols but has been unable to reduce expenses enough to stretch the dollars through the end of the year.
“In mid-August, we will be out of money for the detail,” he said.
The chief said he might have to end the special downtown patrols if more money cannot be found to pay the overtime.
“I don’t have the resources to put on-duty people out there,” he said. “We are giving notice that we need to look at resolving that issue.”
Craft has pushed to keep the downtown detail in place, arguing that without it, officers would have to be redeployed from other areas of the city to deal with weekend incidents along Jefferson Street.
Not all council members are aligned with the chief on that issue, including Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who has questioned spending so much money on an enhanced police presence downtown when there are needs throughout the city.
Councilman Jay Castille said he supports the downtown detail, but he feels downtown bar owners should help foot the bill because they are making money off the weekend crowds.
“We need to do something about this problem, but we are not causing it,” Castille said.
The special downtown detail started in 2005, and paying for that detail has long been an issue.
The council in 2009 approved a security fee in an effort to force bars to share in the increasing expense of special police details, but the council in 2012 suspended the bar levy pending the outcome of a federal lawsuit filed by downtown bar owners alleging the fee amounts to an unconstitutional tax imposed without their consent.
The lawsuit is still active, and city-parish government has been paying the full tab.
If downtown bar owners don’t want to contribute, Castille said, then he would be reluctant to restore funding for the special detail.
“I’m not in favor of putting any more money in it,” he said.
Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.