The city of Baton Rouge’s annexation of the Mall of Louisiana save for a few department stores — an action approved by the Metro Council about a month ago — is set to take effect Friday, and one unintended consequence could be the creation of an unusual policing situation.
The Baton Rouge Police Department will have jurisdiction inside most of the mall — which is in the city — while the Sheriff’s Office will oversee law enforcement in department stores such as Dillard’s and Macy’s — which are in the unincorporated part of the parish.
As for who patrols the parking lots where fender benders and vehicle burglaries constitute a majority of the “public assists” deputies currently handle at the mall, jurisdiction remains to be seen, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
Until recently, the mall has been in an unincorporated portion of East Baton Rouge Parish where an effort is underway to create the new city of St. George. However, on May 14, the Metro Council accepted a request for annexation into the city of Baton Rouge filed by owners of the mall, Baton Rouge General Medical Center at Bluebonnet and Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center.
During the meeting, St. George proponents were concerned that the annexation would mean its petition effort to create the city would be invalidated and the loss of revenue generated by the mall would hurt the St. George Fire Department, which provides fire protection to the mall. However, city of St. George supporters have since said those issues will not pose a problem.
But for police agencies, the annexation has provided, at least in the beginning, confusion.
Stores including Sears, Dillard’s, Macy’s and J.C. Penney, among a few others, chose not to join the annexation, meaning parcels of land where those stores are situated will remain outside the city limits even though the property will be surrounded on all sides by city land.
“You’re going to have a Baton Rouge police officer walk down the halls and check the bathrooms and the smaller stores of the mall, and then the sheriff’s deputy is going to be watching Dillard’s and Sears,” said Woody Jenkins, a St. George supporter and chairman of the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party. “I’ve just never heard anything like that before, and it strikes me as being very strange.”
The Police Department will not receive any additional funding or other resources to handle the additional work at the mall and hospitals, said William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden.
“I don’t think that’s going to increase their workload a lot,” Daniel said, adding later that he expects there will be cooperation between the various law enforcement agencies involved.
Cpl. Don Coppola Jr., a police spokesman, said officers from the department’s second district on Highland Road will handle calls to the mall and the two medical centers. The department plans to begin patrols with the manpower currently operating out of the district, and if a need arises to make changes, they’ll make them, Coppola said.
He also said just because a call originates from inside a department store doesn’t necessarily mean police won’t respond if they’re close.
The police provide protection in the city and the Sheriff’s Office generally covers the parish’s unincorporated areas.
Hicks, the Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, made a similar statement.
“It’s not like the Sheriff’s Office is not going to respond if we’re needed,” Hicks said.
But while police and deputies prepare to make changes when the annexation goes through, firefighters do not have to worry about making the same adjustments.
The St. George Fire Department will continue to be the first fire agency to respond to distress calls at the mall and the hospitals even if the areas are annexed into the city, said Eldon Ledoux, a department spokesman.
It’s part of an “auto aid agreement,” one of many between the St. George and Baton Rouge fire departments where the agency with the station closest to a specific area responds first, regardless of jurisdictional lines.
“Those types of agreements work best for the public we serve,” said Curt Monte, a Baton Rouge fire spokesman. “Whether it be the public of the St. George Fire Department or the public of the Baton Rouge Fire Department, it’s to protect life and property the quickest and most effective way we can.”
Advocate staff writer Rebekah Allen contributed to this report. Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.