Before the sun rose Monday morning, 34 Baton Rouge Police recruits stood at attention, lining the hallway of the Training Academy, awaiting their next command.
"Face!" barked the Baton Rouge Police officers in charge of training. The recruits jumped to a push-up position. Up, down, up, down.
"Feet!" The recruits jumped back up, dropping their hands at their sides, eyes focused forward.
The first day of the 21-week basic training was not meant to be easy — the recruits were dripping sweat within minutes, the officers did not let up their expectations or jeers — but it was supposed to help weed out the men and women who weren't up for the challenge of becoming a Baton Rouge Police officer.
Hours later, the new head of the Baton Rouge Police Department was also experiencing a first on the job: taking his oath of office. Former Louisiana State Police Lieutenant Colonel Murphy Paul was sworn in as the BRPD chief on Monday afternoon and like his fellow new recruits, he wasted no time jumping right in.
U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson led Paul in the oath at City Hall while Paul's family stood behind him. As soon as the oath was complete, several law enforcement leaders stepped in behind the new chief as Paul outlined his first actions at the helm of the agency.
Paul, the only one of five finalists considered by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome who had not worked in the BRPD before, joined Louisiana State Police in 1994. The New Orleans native most recently served as the deputy superintendent of the bureau of investigation.
Paul announced that former interim police chief Jonny Dunnam, police chief finalist Robert McGarner and former BRAVE team leader Herbert "Tweety" Anny will serve as his provisional deputy chiefs while the applicants for the jobs work through the civil service process.
Broome and Paul had previously said the deputy chief job would be expanded to three spots in 2018 as two captain positions are eliminated. The applications for the positions opened on Sunday and will close on Feb. 5.
In addition to revealing these temporary top leaders, Paul also said that the department will move around officers to allow more of them to be on the street and spend more overtime funds so that officers can be deployed "proactively" in high crime areas.
The department will also purchase 25 new crime cameras and 75 new license plate readers that will be plugged into the Louisiana State Police Fusion Center network. Those cameras will eventually feed in to a new 24-hour crime monitoring system that partners with other law enforcement agencies, businesses and residents, Paul said.
As Paul continued to emphasize the importance of intelligence-led policing —a point he made when first announced as chief — he revealed that all officers will be trained by this summer to use the Public Safety Common Operational Picture, a mapping technology that helps direct police response. The technology was rolled out in May, but can now be used by officers in a mobile format to help them target high-crime spots for additional patrols.
While addressing officers directly, Paul recognized that insufficient vehicles and manpower have been an issue, saying that “help is coming” through new cars and recruits. He said officers have been asked to do more with less and that they have not been paid enough for that.
Broome previously approved replacements for flooded vehicles and an additional 78 new vehicles to the BRPD's aging fleet. Paul said he will review the department's recruiting strategies as Broome’s administration launches an officer pay study.
The 84th Basic Training Academy that began Monday is the first of two academies city leaders have promised for 2018 to help fill the gaps that have been felt across the ranks of Baton Rouge Police — even in the homicide detective unit that was tasked with the historic number of murders in 2017.
"Its tougher than a lot of them anticipate," said Lt. J.D. Leach, the former director of training who came Monday to observe the new class. "It's a rite of passage."
Leach said it's almost a guarantee that some will not complete the training, but he hopes the number who drop out or are asked to leave, are kept to a minimum.
"We need them all," Leach said.
Upon passing both the physical and academic portion of the basic training in early June, the recruits will then begin their field training working the streets of Baton Rouge alongside current officers.
Paul, who started work on Jan. 1, said he has already talked to the U.S. Department of Justice about addressing the decades-long consent decree about the department's racial make-up. BRPD has been historically criticized for its lack of diversity, something leaders have taken into consideration in recent years as they bring in new recruits. The Monday class consists of 15 white males, 14 black males, one Hispanic male, two white females, and two black females.
“We need to get that cloud out from over our head and we’re going to work with them to get out from under that consent decree so we can move forward as an agency,” Paul said.
Paul said he has already met with department commanders and has started meeting with community leaders. He will meet with Attorney General Jeff Landry next week to further discuss the investigation into the 2016 fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by a Baton Rouge police officer. The AG's office has been reviewing the case after federal prosecutors last year declined to bring civil rights charges against the involved officers.
During his address to law enforcement leaders, police officers and citizens, Paul also took the time to talk about the 2017 homicide rate, which was greater last year in Baton Rouge than in Chicago, by calling the numbers "unacceptable."
"As leaders in law enforcement … we often become the fault when there is an increase in crime," Paul said. "We take that blame and we take that responsibility and we carry that weight even though in everybody's heart we all know that crime is bigger than the police department. That’s a fact. Crime is a socioeconomic issue.”