The Metro Council will soon revive a committee to study a potential merger of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Baton Rouge Police Department.
Councilman Joel Boé requested that the council assign members to a law enforcement committee at its Jan. 23 meeting. He said he envisions the committee will meet monthly beginning in February but cautioned that the process would be long.
“This won’t be a quick process,” Boé said. “If it was easy it would have been done already.”
Merging the two agencies would require a change to the Plan of Government as well as approval of the Legislature, Boé said.
Boé said the timing is better than ever to pursue consolidation and efficiency in public safety because a high local crime rate and recent high profile shootings nationwide have more people thinking about their safety. “Now is the right time to get a good healthy discussion,” he said.
The committee was established in April 2011 by Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, however, the council did not move forward with assigning members and no meetings were held.
Loupe said Mayor-President Kip Holden’s plans to purchase the old Women’s Hospital on Airline Highway near Goodwood Boulevard for about $10 million to house both the Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department makes the possible law enforcement consolidation even more feasible.
Boé said he would like to chair the consolidation committee. He said council members Tara Wicker and John Delgado also expressed interest in serving on the committee.
Delgado acknowledged that there would be many “logistical roadblocks,” but he said it was worthwhile to study the possibilities.
“I do not know if we will ultimately reach consolidation, but I know that we must carefully examine each and every aspect,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department will have representatives on the committee.
Police Chief Dewayne White said in an emailed statement Thursday that he trusts “that our elected officials will put the appropriate plan in place that better serves this community.
“I know that the criminal element surpasses the city limits of Baton Rouge and both agencies are working diligently at attempting to curb violence in this parish,” he said. “The Baton Rouge Police Department serves the residents and visitors of Baton Rouge both day and night and I feel that our commitment is to the City of Baton Rouge.”
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Boé said he hopes to expand the panel to include representatives from the mayor-president’s office, the City Constable’s Office and police in Baker, Central and Zachary. He said it’s unclear whether a consolidated law enforcement agency would include the municipalities in the northern part of the parish.
Asked for comment Thursday, Holden’s aide, Scott Dyer, said, “Mayor Holden said his position on the consolidation has not changed — he is still against it. He said it’s a very complicated matter, and he made his stance on it clear during the campaign last fall.”
The issue of consolidating the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office was explored in the late 1960s, late 1970s and most recently in 2002, when former Mayor-President Bobby Simpson created a committee to review how to improve efficiency.
The 2002 committee recommended that the city-parish explore combining the resources of the police, sheriff and constable into one agency.
Among the obstacles to parish law enforcement consolidation are the following:
- Police are Civil Service employees. Deputies are not.
- Police and deputies are members of different retirement systems and have different pay scales and different guidelines for promotions.
- Most police officers are represented by a union, which has a collective bargaining agreement with the city-parish.
- The sheriff is elected. The police chief is appointed by the mayor-president.
The law enforcement consolidation effort was in part mobilized by a recent campaign financed by businessman Lane Grigsby. It encouraged local leaders to move forward with the proposal.
“Real change is needed in our system,” said Jay Connoughton, spokesman for the Fight Not Fear campaign. “We commend Mr. Boé for having the courage to move forward on this tough issue.”
Connoughton said he was confident a committee would side with his group’s ideals.
“If a committee goes out there and studies this, it’s common sense to remove the duplication in bureaucracy.”