Baton Rouge community leaders took ideas and insight from the Dallas Police Department's Community Affairs division Tuesday night as they worked to define the capital city's proposed police-community ambassador program.
"There are several initiatives that Dallas does that I think that we could maybe implement," Baton Rouge interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam said after the meeting, noting Dallas Police's coffee with cops on Friday and Saturday mornings and Police Athletic League, which provides sports for youth.
The Dallas Police Department does not have a specific community ambassador program, but it does have a similar initiative called the Community Support Coalition, which brings together about 30 residents for quarterly meetings with police.
"I think ours will be a little more in depth and a little more community oriented," Dunnam said. "Our ambassadors are going to be interacting on a daily, weekly basis. … The community ambassadors are going to be a little more active."
The police policy committee, which has been meeting since May of 2016 to brainstorm improvements for the department, plans to formalize the police-ambassador proposal over the next month and present the idea to the Metro Council in September. In October, they hope to hold forums in community gathering spots, like libraries and recreation centers, to explain the program and encourage people to fill out the application, attend the training, and then serve as a neighborhood liaison.
Leaders from the Baton Rouge Police Department, including interim Police Chief Lt. Jonny Dun…
"(Community policing) has had its own identification within the Baton Rouge Police Department ," said Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who has led many of the the police policy meetings for the last year. "What we're trying to do here is an enhancement of what we have."
Wicker and council member Trae Welch formed the group last year, but interest greatly increased after Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a white Baton Rouge police officer.
"We as a police department cannot arrest our way out of the problem," Jolie Angel Robinson, the manager of community affairs for the Dallas Police Department, said through a conference call to the meeting. "When we think about community policing, we think about building partnerships."
She explained that within their divisions they have officers dedicated solely to community work, which includes surveying neighborhoods, running crime review meetings and spending time in schools.
"One of their main things is that (people) just want to be heard," Robinson said.
The Baton Rouge police policy committee took some of Dallas' practices into consideration as they tried to nail down details for the ambassador program, but many questions remained at the end of the night: what the application will look like, how to hold ambassadors accountable and how the program's success be measured.
Richard Slaughter, a Baton Rouge resident who proposed the community ambassador program earlier this year, worried about how the program will reach the right people, those residents who already have the trust of their neighbors. He said the ambassadors should be neighborhood leaders who can work informally with local police officers — sharing information and requests back and forth.
"That's when people will buy in, when you see corrective action and authentic results," said Slaughter, 32. "It has to be grassroots."
Despite the lingering questions, Dunnam said his department is on board because he hopes the program will lead to a decrease in crime and help repair strained community relations.
"Having community members who are able to interact with officers who are also trained on how to deal with those ambassadors," Dunnam said. "I do see it coming to life."