LAFAYETTE — A fund that pays off-duty police officers overtime rates to patrol downtown Lafayette’s bustling nightlife scene will lose half its resources when the city-parish government’s new budget goes into effect Nov. 1.
The change means — for now — fewer officers will work the detail, and on-duty officers will be pulled from their assigned patrols to respond to major incidents in the downtown area, Police Chief Jim Craft said.
“We’ll be looking for some creative ways to continue to have the detail,” Craft said. “We just don’t have the resources to do it with on-duty officers.”
As it stands now, more than 10 of the department’s 258 officers are assigned to the detail on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, Craft said. Each officer is assigned to a block or side street, he said, and plainclothes officers patrol the streets and bars.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council threw a kink in those operations when it voted to shift $168,000 from the fund to finance part of a $1.4 million police pay raise plan — a move that reduced funding available for the detail, while also increasing its cost.
“You have to remember every time there’s a pay increase, the hourly rate of the officer goes up,” Craft said.
Jefferson Street Pub owner Guz Rezende is president of the Downtown Lafayette Restaurant & Bar Association, formed this year, which represents his and nine other late-night establishments that rely on the police presence three nights a week.
The group invited Craft to its upcoming meeting Nov. 19 to discuss the changes.
“The chief is going to lay out his plan, and we’re going to figure out what to do,” Rezende said.
From January to August 2014 — the most recent month data was available — officers working the detail received 4,117 calls for service, a number that averages around 500 calls a month for the approximately 12 nights the detail is present, or about 40 calls a night.
“Now we’re starting to see more serious incidents involving weapons and that sort of thing,” Craft said. “Before that, it was a lot of public drunkenness and fights.”
Most recently, police responded to a shot fired inside Shakers nightclub at 222 Jefferson Street, an Oct. 12 incident in which a club patron was captured on surveillance video firing his weapon at the ceiling.
No one was injured that night, but three people were hurt there on June 15 when a gunman opened fire inside the bar. And in January 2013, a 20-year-old man was stabbed twice in the back, according to Advocate reports.
“That’s totally unacceptable, as far as I’m concerned,” said District 3 Councilman Brandon Shelvin, who represents downtown, and said he plans to contact Shakers owner Jason Robino to discuss the incidents.
Robino — whose business isn’t listed as a member of the DLRBA — could not be reached for comment through Shakers’ listed phone number, which has been disconnected. An attempt to reach him through the club’s Facebook account on Friday also was unsuccessful.
But the incidents aren’t isolated to within the one club. Three men were injured during an early morning stabbing June 1 near the Chase bank building in the 600 block of Jefferson Street, according to a KATC-TV report.
Although officers are there to respond when violence happens, Craft said a bigger issue remains with the culture surrounding the violence — as in the stabbing incident on Jefferson Street and the shooting inside Shakers — in which witnesses rarely cooperate with police.
“We get very little cooperation from patrons,” Craft said. “We’re there to prevent things from getting out of hand and prevent small disagreements from turning into big things like shootings and stabbings. But to be able to make arrests and take those responsible into custody, you have to have somebody cooperate with you and step forward.”
The department spent about $105,000 on the detail when it began in 2005, according to figures pulled by Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups. Craft said it started out with two officers.
The costs increased as more officers were added to the downtown patrol, reaching nearly $350,000 in 2009 — the same year city-parish government imposed a “special law enforcement levy” on bar owners, billing them with half the tab.
“As it got more popular as a place to go, we got more people,” Craft said of the cost increases. “With more people, your victim pool increases, so you get more crime.”
As costs increased, however — to nearly $470,000 in 2010 and to about $485,000 in 2011 — some bar owners balked and quit paying the bill, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of five of them in 2012.
The five bars that filed the suit against Lafayette Consolidated Government include Nitetown, Shakers and three bars that have since closed — Karma, Guamas and The Rabbit Hole. The suit seeks to recover funds bar owners spent on the detail on the basis that the levy was unconstitutional, as was a “points system” the police used to discipline bars clocking up disturbances at their establishments.
“I never supported the levy to begin with,” said Shelvin, who in April 2012 wrote an ordinance approved by the council that suspends the levy for the duration of the lawsuit, which is ongoing.
The suit remains dormant, however, as Daniel Stanford, the Lafayette attorney who represents the bar owners, was convicted in August on federal drug conspiracy and money laundering charges in a case involving synthetic marijuana.
Regardless of the cuts, some people oppose the amount spent on the downtown detail, Craft said, “because we’re using taxpayer funds to police a very small area.”
The opposition includes District 4 Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who during budget hearings this year tried to empty the fund and funnel it toward the police pay raise plan.
Boudreaux was vocal about his opposition to the expenditure during budget hearings, citing what Craft mentioned — that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are funding police patrols for a small portion of the city.
Although the bar levy remains suspended, a second ordinance remains intact that allows city-parish government to enter into a “cooperative endeavor agreement” with any establishment citywide to provide police detail.
Craft said the ordinance could be considered as a solution to maintaining the current level of police presence downtown, but Shelvin countered that the option is not meant to supplement the funding meant to keep the streets of downtown Lafayette safe.
“If more resources are needed, the chief knows he can come back to the council, and historically, the council has always sided with the chief for his needs,” Shelvin said.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook.