After a tumultuous summer and national outcry about police unnecessarily harming citizens, the Baton Rouge Police Department is considering creating a use-of-force committee with a possible citizen member, Chief Carl Dabadie said Thursday.
At a Leaders With Vision forum, Dabadie stressed that BRPD's data show they use force in fewer than 1 percent of their 250,000 calls a year. But that 1 percent might become subject to extra scrutiny and outside review if the committee is formed.
"Every use-of-force report will be examined, looked at by not only the police department but by professionals and experts in the field," Dabadie told the 35 or so forum attendees at Drusilla's Seafood.
Protesters and some political leaders have called on BRPD to change its inner workings after an officer shot and killed Alton Sterling in early July. The killing was captured on a cellphone video that went viral, and prompted protests about police brutality.
Since then, several pushes for changes to BRPD have gone to the Baton Rouge Metro Council, but none have been successful. Council members have said they are working with BRPD and the public to try to make sure they implement meaningful and effective change.
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Asked directly about putting a citizen representative on the use-of-force committee, Dabadie said the process is still ongoing but "we are looking at having an outside civilian." He also said the officers go through intensive use-of-force training, during which they are put in dynamic situations and have to decide whether the pull the trigger of a paintball gun.
Dabadie spoke alongside LSU School of Social Work professor Wesley T. Church II, Public Defender's Office Executive Director Mike Mitchell, and Capital Area Human Services District emergency response training director John Nosacka. All touched on ways police officers are being trained and on avenues for improvement.
The chief also begged for changes to the civil service system, which ties his hands when trying to promote or discipline officers. He said the system is based solely on seniority, and he's forced to promote officers based on how long they have been doing their jobs rather than if they are doing good work and show potential for leadership.
"If any of you are legislators or people who know legislators, re-examining or redoing the civil service system would help us tremendously," he said.
Dabadie was quick to acknowledge the gap between the police and the community. Another recent change, he said, is that police will start going directly to people who make complaints against them to have them sign affidavits, rather than making those people go to a police station to sign the affidavits.
He also said the department has enough bulletproof vests for every officer to protect against handgun fire, but they do not have enough vests to protect officers from rifle rounds, which is what gunman Gavin Long used on July 17 to kill BRPD officers Montrell Jackson and Matthew Gerald along with Sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola and to injure three others, including the critically injured sheriff's deputy Nick Tullier.
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One forum attendee, Henry Allen, asked Dabadie why police officer applicants are not more thoroughly vetted by talking to their neighbors before they are hired. Dabadie said BRPD checks with neighbors and those who know a potential officer before they make a hire, but it can be hard getting people to open up.
"I wish there was a litmus test that I could stick on somebody's forehead and tell me if they have compassion and heart," Dabadie said.
He also said officers go through more than 300 hours of what's commonly referred to "de-escalation training" specifically intended to calm down incidents, particularly when officers are working with mentally ill people.
Mary Jane Marcantel complimented Dabadie on downtown policing, saying it embodies the "community policing" ideal many people have said BRPD needs to strive for. She said the downtown officers and community know one another and frequently interact.
Church, the LSU social work professor, said political leaders need to set more realistic expectations about community policing.
"Police leaders must make it clear that implementing community policing is a long-term process," Church said.