A group of some 20 people graduated Tuesday night in the first class of Baton Rouge community police ambassadors aimed at bridging the gap between law enforcement officers and the residents they serve.
Planning for the program started almost two years ago in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling and subsequent ambush on law enforcement. Baton Rouge police have pledged their support and have been actively involved in the planning process.
Ambassadors applied and were accepted into the program during the fall and started training several weeks ago, leading to their graduation ceremony Tuesday night. Some have backgrounds in counseling, advocacy or law enforcement while others simply have spent their lives in the Baton Rouge area and want to help bring positive change.
Over the course of about a dozen training sessions led by the East Baton Rouge District Attorney's Office and Baton Rouge Police Department, participants learned some ins and outs of the criminal justice system.
Organizers hope they will pass that knowledge along to residents of their neighborhoods looking for guidance in their own dealings with law enforcement. But Assistant District Attorney Will Jorden has been quick to remind ambassadors of their precise role from the beginning: "You're not lawyers and you're not police. But you're armed with information and you're able to lend a hand in certain situations."
Baton Rouge Police Administrative Deputy Chief Jonny Dunnam complimented the graduates on the commitment they've already shown and said the department has started informing officers about the program so they can collaborate with ambassadors in the areas they patrol. He also spoke about "organizational change" that's on the horizon thanks to Chief Murphy Paul, who took the reins of the Baton Rouge Police Department last month.
Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who spearheaded the program, said Tuesday evening that this is the beginning of "significant healing" for the Baton Rouge community.
"I know that as a result of (our) time together … we will see a reduction of crime in our community," she told the graduates. "We'll also see better relationships with the police department and we will function better as a community, love and respect one another and see beyond color — see people's hearts."