Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said she thinks East Baton Rouge Parish’s public vehicles need to stay inside the parish lines.
Some city-parish workers — particularly within the Baton Rouge Police Department — drive their public vehicles home with them. Many live in neighboring parishes, Marcelle said, which results in unnecessary fuel costs and the loss of a police presence in the parish.
“I don’t want to pay for people to ride out of our parish to go home,” Marcelle said Thursday. “I actually have property in Ascension Parish and I’m down there frequently, and I always see our vehicles down there and I see them in Livingston.”
She also said residents enjoy added safety benefits when police officers live in their neighborhoods because visible police cars in driveways can reduce crime. She wants to keep that benefit in Baton Rouge.
“I met a guy the other day from Ascension who told me he liked the fact that our police officer lived two doors down from him,” Marcelle said. “We’re paying for their protection.”
She said city-parish employees driving public vehicles should use their personal vehicles to commute to work.
In 1991, the parish had a policy that limited public take-home cars to the parish boundary lines. But that was later changed to allow take-home vehicles outside the parish as long as it fell within a 24-mile radius from the center of the city.
“We found that basing take-home privileges on the political boundaries of East Baton Rouge Parish did nothing to address mileage concerns and in fact created inequities that were impossible to justify,” Lt. Don Kelly, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department, said in an email.
“The irregular shape of our parish, and the location of our city, essentially rewarded people who live north or south but punished those who live east or west, even if they commuted fewer miles and burned less fuel.”
The 24-mile radius requirement was determined by pinpointing the center of the parish, which is at Tom Drive and Wooddale Boulevard, and then drawing a line to the farthest corner of East Baton Rouge.
“We believed then, and still believe now, that it is fair, equitable and reasonable, and is the superior way to address mileage and wear and tear on vehicles,” Kelly said.
The number of take-home cars that leave the parish each day was not immediately available, but Kelly estimated that fewer than half of the police department’s fleet of 650 vehicles leave East Baton Rouge Parish. Fuel costs for city-parish vehicles, including take-home vehicles, are paid for by the city-parish.
Kelly said the vast majority of officers who live within the radius take their police vehicles home, but are not authorized to use them for personal stops or errands unless they are on the way to or from work or an authorized assignment.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council will take up Marcelle’s proposal to keep city-parish vehicles in the parish at their April 10 meeting. “My colleagues have the right to vote however they want, but I hope they keep in mind that they were placed here by the citizens of this parish and not other parishes,” Marcelle said.
Marcelle’s proposal is already facing opposition from some council members.
Councilman Buddy Amoroso said he thought the policy change could hurt the department’s ability to hire and recruit the best officers in the region.
“It would really restrict what officers they’re going to hire, which is micromanaging the police force and something that I don’t think the council should get involved in,” Amoroso said.
Councilman Joel Boé said he thinks the current, 24-mile radius restriction is reasonable and likened Marcelle’s proposal to a New Orleans ordinance that requires New Orleans’ city employees to be residents of the city.
“That’s a little far reaching at this point,” he said. “The radius in place is reasonable. It’s not like we have someone driving back and forth from New Orleans every day.”
New Orleans previously had the requirement in place, but suspended it for seven years after Hurricane Katrina displaced so many of its residents and employees. The suspension ended Jan. 1 and an ordinance was approved March 7.
Marcelle said her proposal is not intended to set the stage for a New Orleans-like residency requirement, but said she supports the concept.