Citing an increase in downtown business and nightlife activity, Baton Rouge Police announced plans to double their presence in the area by the end of October.
“Downtown has grown by leaps and bounds, plus we have a lot more coming,” Police Chief Carl Dabadie said by phone on Tuesday. “It’s just time for us to realign our manpower in that area.”
Baton Rouge’s downtown has undergone a growth surge over the last few years. Once thought of as a ghost-town after the end of the work day, downtown has added 66 new businesses between 2007 and 2014 and now receives about 140,000 visitors a day, according to the Downtown Development District.
Some of the businesses include a new Matherne’s market that opened in January, a call center for USAgencies with 120 employees and, most significant of all, the IBM service center scheduled to open in May with 200 employees.
But as downtown is booming, there are still 10 officers assigned to the BRPD office at Third and Convention streets — though there are extra officers brought in for the rush on weekend nights, and that figure doesn’t include security at public buildings like the 19th Judicial District Courthouse. Police plan to double that figure to at least 20 by the end of October. And of course, police who aren’t stationed downtown could still respond to a major emergency.
“This is something I’ve been working on pretty much ever since I took office,” Dabadie told the Downtown Development District Commission on Tuesday. But Dabadie stressed that the increased presence is not a response to any increase in crime. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the game,” he said.
The new officers will be stationed at a satellite police office which has been open since 2009. Those officers will come from the 60 or so police academy graduates scheduled to join the ranks by the end of April, said Lt. Jonny Dunnam, a Baton Rouge Police spokesman.
A longer-term plan is to open a new district headquarters in the basement of City Hall — in the offices where the Clerk of Court is now located. If that plan goes through, the district boundaries would likely be reconfigured, and downtown police would respond to calls as far south as LSU, as far north as Choctaw Drive, west to the Mississippi River and as far east as a point between the Interstate and 19th Street, Dabadie said at the meeting.
And if Baton Rouge expands any farther along its border to the south — following the annexation of L’Auberge Casino and the Mall of Louisiana — more officers would likely have to be added there as well, Dabadie said.
Local businesses were supportive of the proposed presence.
Scott Taylor, president of Walk-On’s Enterprises — which owns Happy’s Irish Pub — said the added police presence might allow him to forgo hiring private security for some of the venue’s larger events. In general, though, Taylor said he has been satisfied with police response time.
“We want to run a clean and classy organization where people can come and have a good time … so that presence is a good thing,” Taylor said.
Michael Cefalu, general manager of Schlittz & Giggles’ downtown branch, also welcomes the plan. The restaurant already has at least one BRPD officer standing outside from 10 p.m. until about 4 a.m. most weekend nights.
Cefalu has found that drunk or belligerent customers have tried to provoke the private security guards the restaurant has hired — but with BRPD, that’s not the case.
“I’m for it,” Cefalu said of the new plan. “I’m all about it.”
Baton Rouge police stand at 656 officers and 43 vacancies. The 60 incoming graduates of the academy should fill most of those empty spots, while also covering the roughly 20 officers scheduled for retirement, Dunnam said.