The Metro Council let the clock run out Wednesday on a major proposed change to the Baton Rouge Police Department called for by community leaders and activists after last month's killing of Alton Sterling by police followed by the slaying of three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers by a gunman.
Three hours of debate on a proposed ordinance requiring future Baton Rouge Police Department hires starting in 2017 to live within parish limits culminated in Metro Council members realizing in the final few minutes of the hearing that they did not have enough support to pass the proposal. They started questioning whether they could retool it into something more agreeable to the majority of the Metro Council, with many saying it is too important a decision to get wrong.
Council members let their meeting last until they had to adjourn, without voting on the ordinance, thus forcing a deferral that some council members said they will use to rework the proposal. The council has not used the tactic in years.
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Throughout the emotional and racially charged debate Wednesday, mostly black members of the public pleaded with Metro Council members to understand the racism they feel in their daily lives and said having a police force whose officers who live in their parish would make them feel safer.
But others challenged the idea, saying that imposing rules on where police officers could live might have no effect on the racial makeup of BRPD and whether officers engage with the communities they police. They said the assertion that police officers cannot be good at their jobs unless they live in the parish where they work is incorrect, and cited multiple officers who died in the line of duty in East Baton Rouge but lived in other parishes.
At many points throughout the debate, residents and council members referenced Sterling, whose shooting death last month during a struggle with Baton Rouge police sparked nationwide protests. They also brought up fallen officers Matthew Gerald, Montrell Jackson and Brad Garafola, all of whom lived outside of East Baton Rouge Parish but were killed while policing inside of the parish.
"Let us be able to come together and realistically talk about how do we get to where we want," said Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker. "I don't think we've answered the question of how do we get there."
Councilmen Ryan Heck and Trae Welch echoed that the issue is too important to rush and that they want more time to figure out how to solve issues of community policing and a racial makeup of the police force that does not match its community.
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Ordinance sponsor Chauna Banks-Daniel said the residency proposal was never intended to be a solution to community policing, nor was it intended to diversify BRPD. She said the proposal was instead meant to instill a sense of community between people and police who live, work and worship in the same parish.
Though at least a dozen BRPD officers and Chief Carl Dabadie attended the meeting, nobody representing BRPD spoke at it. BRPD Deputy Chief David Hamilton and BRPD Union leader C. Bryan Taylor have previously voiced opposition to the proposal.
About 30 people spoke in support of the proposed ordinance, some accusing the Metro Council of maintaining racist structures and not listening to the will of their constituents. At times, the debate turned threatening.
A few people also spoke in opposition to the proposal, with most saying residency requirements are not linked to community policing, nor have they been successful in the past. Most Metro Council members agreed residency rules could have unintended consequences and not meet the goal of diversifying the police force.
"Even having a geography restriction placed on our police department does not ensure that the racial makeup will match the racial makeup of our parish and our city," Councilman Joel Boé said, citing statistics from data journalism outlet FiveThirtyEight that Banks-Daniel also cited. That data shows that police departments with residency requirements are less reflective of the communities they serve and that residency rules do not build trust between communities and police.
The meeting was emotional and tense at many points, with several instances of people in the audience becoming frustrated with Metro Council members and voicing their displeasure from their seats.
"The problem is, if you're going to continue to ignore us, then you're going to continue to have problems like we're having on that Sunday," said speaker Aaron Banks, referencing gunman Gavin Long's deadly shooting rampage on law enforcement officers the morning of July 17. Several people in the audience gasped when Banks made the comment.
"And it's the God's honest truth," he continued. "Because it's going to take more of us, the black community, to start policing each other and policing each other from the BRPD and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Department."
Banks then spoke about Sterling and whether any evidence showed he had a gun or if he had been reaching for one when police killed him. Sterling's aunt, Sandra Sterling, also attended the meeting but did not speak.
Boé asked for Banks to stay on-topic, saying debates about whether Sterling was armed were unrelated to police residency requirements. Audience members fumed over Boé's request, and Wicker — who ran the meeting in Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe's absence — said she would not stop Banks from speaking about Sterling.
The Rev. Reginald Pitcher said those pushing the proposal need to stop pretending residency requirements are not a racial issue. Pitcher, who nevertheless backs the requirements, spoke of the history of racism in Baton Rouge and how race permeates most local issues.
Council member John Delgado later said Pitcher was "the only one who got up at the microphone and told what I think was the truth" because Delgado agrees that the residency proposal is racially motivated, a statement that incited another round of outbursts from the crowd.
Other speakers, seeing Metro Council members playing on their phones and chatting with one another while people were speaking, told the council members they were not being serious about the issue.
"Y'all could leave here right now and somebody angry cause of all of this could kill you," said a woman identified only as Nefertiti. "Then what? It might not be serious now but I guess it would be serious then. … The change is important, what we're asking for is very important. … We don't want anybody else to get killed, white, black, police, no police, enough is enough."
Past residency requirements have not been successful or long-lived in this region. They were short-lived decades ago in Baton Rouge, and they were more recently done away with in 2014 in New Orleans.
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Scott Cornelius, who spoke against the residency requirement proposal, said that just because officers live in the same parish where they work does not necessarily mean they would still be policing their neighbors.
"How many people have no idea who their neighbors are?" he said, pointing out that someone living in Shenandoah could still be policing Eden Park across the parish.
Many speakers said the Metro Council should consider alternatives if the residency proposal fails.
Among the alternatives suggested were finding better ways to recruit black officers and designating police officers who live in each neighborhood as those who help enforce community policing. Some also suggested giving cost-of-living allowances to those officers living in the parish.
Several council members agreed that BRPD needs better recruiting, starting in middle schools and high schools and encouraging black people to become police officers. Dabadie has previously said minority recruitment has made recent strides and that the last four police academy classes have been made up of 67 to 75 percent officers of color.
The residency issue is expected to come back before the Metro Council at its Aug. 24 meeting.