A committee dedicated to improving East Baton Rouge Parish law enforcement and crime prevention narrowed its list of priorities Monday, moving forward with plans to build a new Parish Prison and maintain a truancy center.
The committee also explored potential funding options for its priorities and agreed that a public safety headquarters for Baton Rouge police and the Sheriff’s Office was not a top priority.
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said the law enforcement leaders of the committee were in agreement that the new Parish Prison should have a capacity of at least 3,000.
“Less than that will not suffice for right now or for the future,” Gautreaux said. “We’re not trying to collectively see how many people we can fit into jail, but the fact is there are people that need to go to jail and will go to jail.”
Gautreaux also said the new jail should include a wing to address drug and alcohol dependency and a wing for mental health issues.
He said substance addiction is a common thread shared among many parish prisoners, and adding services to address the chemical dependency could reduce recidivism.
The committee — meeting for the third time — also reconfirmed its commitment to building a juvenile services facility and maintaining a misdemeanor jail, but agreed that a $103 million combined City Police and Sheriff’s Office headquarters was no longer a top priority for them.
The public safety complex, along with the juvenile services center and plans for a smaller Parish Prison than what the committee is proposing, were included in Mayor-President Kip Holden’s failed capital improvements tax and bond plan.
Holden’s $748 million plan included about $298 million for public safety improvements, some of which mirror the committee’s plans.
The committee’s decision to potentially forgo the new public safety complex, which also would have provided training space for emergency services, is the biggest divergence yet of the two taxpayer-funded public safety plans.
“If the $103 million for the public safety complex would in any way imperil our other priorities, then as good stewards of taxpayer money, we should look for other avenues to address it,” Police Chief Dewayne White said.
Gautreaux said his headquarters building is in decent shape.
But White said the Police Department headquarters, located in a former school on Mayflower Street, is in serious disrepair.
He said as an alternative to the new public safety complex, City Police could seek existing commercial real estate opportunities to potentially relocate.
White also said City Police is addressing another one of its priorities — a new evidence room — in house.
The Police Department recently placed a bid on an old warehouse on Evangeline Street that will cost about $27 per square foot, compared to new construction which would have cost about $90 per square foot, White said.
The committee was also updated on the ongoing progress of a parish truancy center, which has been in the works for two years. The center is expected to be located at the former Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired on Government Street and has an estimated yearly cost of $1.2 million.
Gwen Hamilton, assistant chief administrative officer for Holden, told the committee that the mayor, the sheriff, the district attorney and the parish school system have each verbally committed to allocating $100,000 to the truancy center for the first three years.
She also said agencies that will be collaborating with the truancy center will pay rent in the facility amounting to about $300,000 the first year.
Gautreaux said neither he, nor District Attorney Hillar Moore III, who was not present at the meeting, would participate or provide funding for the truancy center if it didn’t also include the school systems in Baker, Central and Zachary.
Hamilton said all superintendents from the school districts were invited to attend meetings about the truancy center, however East Baton Rouge Parish school system was the only one to actively engage in an agreement.
“If they want to lease space in the building, Sheriff, then we’ve got room for them,” Hamilton said.
The committee also eliminated some items from its original list of needs, such as operational costs for the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office, with those agencies opting to handle those funding issues in-house.
The committee, formed by the Metro Council, includes Holden; Gautreaux; Moore; White; Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps; Zachary Police Chief David Courtney; Central Police Chief Doug Browning; and Baton Rouge City Constable Reginald Brown. It is chaired by Councilman Trae Welch.
The committee will assemble a list of law enforcement needs that are expected to be funded through taxes. The proposal is expected to be presented to voters in April.