A group of law enforcement and crime prevention leaders from across East Baton Rouge Parish has created a list of more than $500 million in capital projects and operational expenses they say are necessary to reduce crime.
The Crime Fighting/Prevention Committee — created by the Metro Council — met officially for the first time Monday, outlining priorities and needs.
The committee could modify the list during its meetings over the next several weeks.
Councilman Mike Walker said the Metro Council could vote to send a crime-fighting tax package to voters in April.
“This isn’t a wish list,” Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said. “It’s a needs list.”
Gautreaux, who spoke for other law enforcement groups, listed the top priorities:
• A new parish prison which could hold between 2,280 and 3,000 inmates; estimated cost of $151 million to $198 million.
• A new juvenile services facility, estimated cost $45 million.
• A 24-hour, 7-day-a-week misdemeanor jail, estimated cost $2.2 million.
• A truancy center with funding for staffing to reduce the drop-out rate, estimated $1 million.
The list also included $86 million for “operational needs” for the Sheriff’s Office, between $5 million and $10 million for the District Attorney’s Office operations, $5.5 million for 50 additional city police officers to fill expected vacancies over the next couple years, $1.9 million for a new evidence room for city police and some additional funding for equipment and programs.
Another $103 million to build a combined headquarters and training center for city police and the Sheriff’s Office is also included, but Gautreaux said that was less of a priority than many of the other initiatives on the list.
The committee includes Metro Councilman Trae Welch, Mayor-President Kip Holden, Gautreaux, District Attorney Hillar Moore, Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White, Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps, Zachary Police Chief David Courtney, Central Police Chief Doug Browning and Constable Reginald Brown.
Browning did not attend, nor did Holden, who sent two staff members.
White said he needs 50 additional officers because he expects attrition through 2014.
“It takes 14 to 18 months to move a cadet through the academy and make them an effective field officer,” White said. “I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve.”
White also said he wants to double the size of his narcotics division.
“The use of narcotics in the city is of epidemic proportions,” he said.
The committee agreed that the success of the misdemeanor jail pilot program earlier this month indicated it should be a priority. They also said the experience showed how effective law enforcement can be when it collaborates.
“People are committing misdemeanor after misdemeanor and they tear up the summons right in the officer’s face,” Gautreaux said. “There’s a total indifference to law and order and to all of the system.”
Walker said he believes the public will support a tax package to fight crime because “crime is the number one concern of everybody in East Baton Rouge Parish.”
“This can be done fellas,” he said. “I don’t see any reason in the world why this can’t be accomplished.”
A funding plan has not been developed yet, but a preliminary list of potential sources of funding indicates the group expects to issue bonds, or could ask for taxes under the sheriff’s Law Enforcement District which allows him to go directly to voters to approve a tax.
The group also expects to identify grant money for some of the programs.
“This is a really important issue, but we’re asking for money at a difficult time in our community,” Moore said. “At the same time people are committing a lot of serious crimes and the public wants answers, they want something done.”
The $500 million of law enforcement needs is a jump from the $298 million dedicated to public safety proposed in Holden’s recent capital improvements tax proposal worth a total of $748 million.
Holden’s plan, which was killed two weeks ago by the Metro Council, also included funding to build the parish prison, juvenile services facility and public safety headquarters.
“I didn’t hear a whole lot that was different,” said John Carpenter, chief administrative officer for Holden, after the meeting.
He noted that the mayor’s tax package looked at solving infrastructure problems, and the sheriff and the district attorney could have addressed operational needs by levying their own taxes.
But Carpenter said he expects the Mayor’s Office will continue to participate in the discussions.
In a phone interview, Holden said before the meeting that he couldn’t comment on his feelings until he knew more specifically what its intentions were.
“They say it’s for crime reduction, well that’s very broad,” he said. “I need to know the parameters of what they’re trying to do.”
The committee is expected to meet again Sept. 12.