Louisiana State Police veteran Murphy Paul will take the helm of the Baton Rouge Police Department as the new chief, selected by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome Friday after a months-long search.
Paul, the only one of five finalists who had not worked in the Baton Rouge Police Department before, has been a Louisiana State Police trooper since 1994. A lieutenant colonel at State Police, he most recently served as the deputy superintendent of the bureau of investigation.
The new chief will take over an agency that has dealt with a challenging and tragic year and half, starting with the July 2016 fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by a Baton Rouge police officer and the protests that followed. Just weeks later, the department lost two officers in an ambush shooting by a lone gunman who shot six law enforcement officers, killing three of them. Later that summer, many officers lost homes in the 2016 flood.
More recently, BRPD leaders faced what they called a significant manpower shortage just as homicides have spiked across the city.
“I know there are many questions that we’ve learned throughout this (application) process (and) the answers are going to come from the men and women of the Baton Rouge Police Department and the community,” said Paul, who will start his new position on January 1. “We just have to empower them and get the buy-in and I’m excited to be a part of this process and where we are headed as a community.”
Paul said he plans to focus his first 90 days on building a team, starting with appointing three deputy chiefs. He will also meet with stakeholders — faith-based groups, the police unions, media and others — and review policies.
Specifically, Paul said he especially wants to review the use-of-force policy and the early warning system to identify troubled officers. Additionally, Paul said he wants to review how the department supports the Violent Crimes Unit, a multi-agency effort he complimented for its good work.
“I do believe that the nucleus to addressing some of these crime issues, specifically when it relates to gang violence, it’s in the VCU,” Paul said.
When questioned about 2017’s record-breaking homicide numbers, Paul said he is optimistic that 2018 will be better and that improving community-police relationships will help with witness cooperation. He also spoke about working with non-profit groups to address domestic violence.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III pledged his support to Paul and said that the new chief will have the support of many others, too, as he takes on the new role. Paul will be the sixth chief that Moore works with in 10 years.
“It’s a brand new year coming off of a difficult year,” Moore said of Paul getting to work at the start of 2018. “As bad as times are, given this past year, it’s also a good time to begin and work.”
The police chief position opened in July after former Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. announced his retirement. Replacing the chief was a priority Broome articulated during her fall 2016 campaign, saying that while Dabadie was a good man the cries for change from many in the black community — and others — after the Sterling shooting demonstrated the need for a leadership change.
Broome pledged a national search, but that never materialized as the new mayor found that Baton Rouge's civil service protections — which extend even to the top BRPD job — made it difficult to recruit out-of-state candidates.
The mayor said Friday that there are advantages and disadvantages to a new chief rising up the ranks or coming from outside the agency. Overall she said she was pleased with the pool of candidates she ended up getting. While a national search can be an advantage, Broome said it “is not a qualifier for the best candidates.”
Paul beat out current Baton Rouge Police officers Myron Daniels, Darryl Honoré and Robert McGarner, who stood next to Paul before the announcement, as well as former BRPD veteran Ronald Stevens. The five finalists were whittled down from a pool of candidates interviewed in public forums by an advisory board earlier this year.
Lt. Jonny Dunnam, the current interim chief, did not apply for the position, saying he plans to retire in about three years. Broome praised his leadership over recent months before introducing her permanent pick.
In his current position, Paul oversaw several major divisions at State Police: criminal investigations, special investigations, the state Fusion Center, and the gaming division. Paul was previously the deputy superintendent for support and training, command inspector for criminal investigations and commander of internal affairs at Louisiana State Police.
“He has worked his way through the ranks of a trooper, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander to now one of four deputy superintendents in state police with oversight of investigations," said Broome. The mayor later said she only made her decision this week after many nights of falling asleep and waking up to thoughts of more questions she could ask the candidates.
Broome said Paul fulfills her requirements of a chief who is experienced, progressive and visionary, as well as promoting transparency and integrity.
Paul said he would bring his talent as a “bridge builder,” another one of Broome’s requirements, to the position in order to address barriers to community-police relations. Through the interview process, Paul said he has listened to and heard the concerns of both the community and Baton Rouge police officers.
“We start off on a great foundation where we agree on something: that there is room for change,” Paul said. “That’s communicated on both sides.”
When asked by community activist Gary Chambers about the unreleased video footage of the Sterling shooting, Paul said he had not yet seen the videos that aren't already public, but that he would be sure to watch them after the state Attorney General’s investigation is finished.
Federal prosecutors declined to pursue civil rights charges against the officers involved in the shooting earlier this year. But then the case was handed over to Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has been evaluating whether state charges are warranted.
Paul also said that Louisiana State Police and the Baton Rouge Police Department already have plans in place for any response necessary “in terms of public safety and making sure that the public is safe” when the Attorney General’s decision comes down on the Sterling case.
“We will continue to build on that,” Paul said. “Obviously we will monitor those activities. Intelligence is so important to us to make sure that we are able to do that in a safe way.”
Paul graduated from high school in New Orleans and holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Loyola University.
Sources previously told The Advocate that Paul was a finalist for the Louisiana State Police superintendent job after Mike Edmonson retired from the position last spring.
A public records request filed by The Advocate for Paul’s personnel file has not yet been completely fulfilled, but Louisiana State Police Lt. J.B. Slaton told The Advocate that “there is no disciplinary in LTC Paul’s file.” Paul also said there was no disciplinary actions taken against him during his tenure at State Police during his public interview.
Dewayne White was the last Baton Rouge police chief to assume the position after a long career at the Louisiana State Police. White, a former Baton Rouge police officer, had 21 years of Louisiana State Police experience when he became the 27th chief in 2011. But he had a falling out with then Mayor-President Kip Holden and was fired in 2013.
Paul scored an 85 percent on the chief civil service exam in October, which placed him seventh out of the twelve applicants who took the test, according to records obtained by The Advocate.
All 12 of the original applicants had worked in Louisiana law enforcement. Only one did not pass the civil service exam and four others later dropped out of the process.
A committee of 14 community members organized by Broome publicly interviewed the seven finalists before recommending their top five candidates to the mayor, who then personally interviewed and chose among them.