Lafayette Police Chief Toby Aguillard speaks during a meeting to discuss crime statistics and other reflections on 2017 and to talk about departmental goals and plans for 2018 Thursday, December 28, 2017, at the Lafayette Police Station in Lafayette, La.

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK

The Lafayette Police Department plans to open an “entertainment precinct” to patrol the downtown and Simcoe areas, as well as McKinley Street. Staffing the precinct will be 10 new officers with training in dealing with nightclubs, open-air drug use, panhandling and other issues specific to those areas.

The new hires are scheduled to start the police academy on Jan. 2, and plans are for the precinct to be up and running by the end of summer, Chief Toby Aguillard said Thursday in a year-end briefing with reporters. The specialized entertainment training regimen hasn’t yet been established.

“There are all sorts of things that are unique to our downtown and Simcoe areas that officers don’t seem to face in other precincts,” Aguillard said. “In the process of getting these officers trained, we are getting ourselves trained on what are the best practices to deal with these types of areas.”

A $1.2 million federal grant will cover most of the additional personnel costs for the first three years, including one-time training and equipment costs. Aguillard said city-parish officials have assured him provisions will be in place to make the new precinct permanent after three years.  

The additional staffing will increase the ranks of enforcement officers from 267 to 277, while decreasing the staffing and geographic boundaries of the 1st and 4th precincts, which typically see more violent crime than other areas. Some of the officers currently in those precincts will be reassigned to a flexible “power squad,” which can supplement regular patrols and help reduce call backlogs overall.

“If we have a huge event occur on one side of the city, send that squad on that side of the city to take up calls while the regular patrols are working whatever the event may be,” Aguillard said.

A sergeant and four officers will staff the power squad, and Aguillard hopes the remaining regular officers in the 1st and 4th precincts will have an easier time tackling violent crime in smaller territories. Lafayette has seen a 50 percent increase in homicides within its boundaries this year, from 16 to 24, assuming no more happen through the end of the year.

All 24 of those homicides have been cleared, a point of pride for the department since the national clearance rate for cities of Lafayette’s size was about 60 percent in 2016, according to FBI statistics. The per-capita homicide rate in Lafayette that year was about twice the national average for cities of its size.

Other plans in 2018 include:

  • Working with city-parish government to secure 2 percent annual raises for police officers, on par with firefighters.
  • Creating two substations in south Lafayette to accommodate the 2nd and 3rd precincts, which are currently operated at police headquarters at 900 E. University Ave.
  • Hiring a social media investigator.
  • Hiring three civilian clerks to track and download footage from body and in-car cameras.
  • Educating local religious leaders on safety measures they can take in their houses of worship.

Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.