Black community leaders on Tuesday called for an overhaul of the Lafayette Police Department’s response to racism among its officers and for increased accountability over its operations, which they said lack transparency and pose a threat to the safety of black residents.
At an NAACP-hosted news conference at Imani Temple on Willow Street, Chapter President Marja Broussard laid out a list of demands from the department, including an independent investigation into its practices.
“We cannot afford to keep our eyes closed to what may have been going on for years in our public policy efforts,” Broussard told a media-packed room.
“We’re asking all residents of this community — including, but not limited to, police officers — who know about the wrongs that have been occurring and are still occurring, to come forward … so that we might make sure that all the issues are put on the table and attention is brought to them with proper investigation,” she said.
Broussard also called for the termination of any officer who displays explicit racial bias, including Sgt. William White, who was captured on an audio recording in an expletive-laden, derogatory rant that included a common racial slur.
Broussard and other members of the black community have expressed dissatisfaction with the Police Department’s 30-day suspension of White in the incident and of the Lafayette Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board’s refusal to conduct a requested review of the discipline.
Police Chief Jim Craft responded to the racism conversation in recent months by announcing the development of a community relations committee, which he touted as a way to bridge the gap between the community and the Police Department, and that the entire department will soon be required to take diversity training.
Broussard said the group is pleased with the development — although the community relations committee has not yet met — but more needs to be done.
In addition to White’s termination, the NAACP called for pre-hiring evaluations of police officers to determine racial biases and the firing of officers who don’t respond well to diversity training; a dismantling of the current membership of the civil service board; and an external oversight committee to keep watch over the fire and police departments.
Takuna El Shabazz, president of the Community Council of Black Elders in Lafayette, called the administration’s response to White’s comments “systematic cover up and support for racial overtones” and encouraged the black community to question those decisions.
Upon his retirement in February, 21-year police officer Andres Landor presented the recording of White to the Lafayette City-Parish Council, prompting the council to call for an internal affairs investigation by the Police Department.
Although another officer came forward with allegations of a second time White used derogatory language, that officer did not file a formal complaint and an investigation was not opened, according to briefs filed with the civil service board by White’s attorney, Allyson Prejean.
The Rev. John Milton, pastor at Imani Temple and a Lafayette attorney, said after the news conference that he has a good relationship with the Police Department, but the number of documented incidents that indicate racial biases within the department show “there is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
The group also distributed a packet of information to the media that includes a 20-page document detailing its complaints against the Police Department along with audio recordings, said to support those complaints, that involve conversations between Police Department officials and officers.
The information packet included several Police Department policies on general conduct, professional conduct, departmental discipline, internal investigations and sexual misconduct, along with a December 2014 letter Landor wrote to U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley alleging the Police Department failed to investigate a claim that an officer sexually harassed a police informant.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825