Three of the seven remaining candidates to be the next Baton Rouge police chief weighed in on community policing, officer misconduct investigations and more during the final set of public interviews on Thursday evening.
A 14-person committee organized by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome asked each candidate 15 questions that were similar, but not identical, to the questions asked to the first set of four candidates on Nov. 16.
Committee members questioned the fairness of asking all candidates the same questions when the later three would have more time to prepare, so the committee asked new questions.
Four candidates were going to be interviewed Thursday, but Samuel Wyatt, the director of investigations for the LSU System Office of Internal Audit, said Thursday morning he withdrew as an applicant.
The committee will narrow the field to five candidates and recommend them for personal interviews with Broome after a Dec. 7 public comment forum and candidate closing statements. That meeting will start at 4:30 p.m. in the Metro Council chambers, though it was previously scheduled for 5 p.m.
Broome previously said she will select a new chief by the end of the year.
The candidates interviewed Thursday were Baton Rouge Police officer Robert McGarner, Louisiana State Police trooper Murphy Paul Jr. and University of Louisiana at Monroe Police Department officer Jeremy Kent.
A private organization, Together Baton Rouge, previously proposed holding private meetings with the candidates with the help of former New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas in order to dig deeper with the candidates.
Jennifer Carwile, a Together Baton Rouge member and committee member, told The Advocate on Thursday night they will no longer hold those interviews, but group members plan to participate at the Dec. 7 meeting. A number of people wearing Together Baton Rouge pins sat in the audience Thursday night.
About 35 people were in the audience at the beginning of Thursday's interviews, but only about 17 remained at the end.
Committee members previously raised questions about the makeup of the group after two members were unable to make the first set of interviews because they both work as lawyers and were in court. City-Parish Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel said Thursday the two members watched the recording of the first interviews and were asked to participate on Thursday.
McGarner is currently a lieutenant and assistant uniform patrol commander for the Baton Rouge Police Department, where he has worked since 1989. The Lee High School graduate was also a communication private for the U.S. Army on a part-time basis between 1987 and 1995.
In response to a question about improving policing, McGarner said he would like to mandate that every officer make at least one non-service contact a week, which could mean stopping and talking with a neighbor and leaving contact information. He said this multiplied by all the officers would help improve community policing.
McGarner also suggested hiring for the two vacant deputy chief positions, which would bring the total to three and allow for specialization in different areas of the department. He also said he would handle officer misconduct investigations “promptly and consistently” and would release information to stay ahead of issues.
“We have stuff that we can send out to the public through the media that can kill a whole lot of fake news, but we hold onto it,” McGarner said.
Paul joined Louisiana State Police in 1994 after working for three years as an Orleans Levee District police officer. In 2012, the lieutenant colonel became the Louisiana State Police Deputy Superintendent of the Bureau of Investigation and he remains in that position. He has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Loyola University New Orleans.
When asked about community policing, Paul said the effort can’t just be ”checking a box,” but rather “believing in your heart that the community should be included in all decisions specifically when it comes to crime in their area.”
Paul returned to the idea of coalition building with nonprofits, specifically mentioning groups like 100 Black Men, government leaders, business owners and even the media to achieve his goals of community policing and advancing the department.
Paul also focused on the police union contract when questioned about implementing change at a department under a police union contract and a civil service system. He said he looked at the currently contract, which expires on Dec. 31, and would want to negotiate some parts of it.
“My question is: Are we moving forward as an agency and an organization?” Paul said in reference to the consistent language in the contract over a number of years. “Because if we haven’t made any substantial changes in 15 years, then there’s room for growth.”
Kent, a lieutenant at the University of Louisiana at Monroe Police Department, has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Louisiana at Monroe and is currently pursuing a master's degree in public administration from ULM. Between 2002 and 2016, he worked at the Monroe Police Department, where he held titles including criminal investigator and training officer. He was a corrections officer at the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Department for two years before that.
When asked if officers should be required to live within the city, Kent said that should be encouraged possibly through incentives, but not required. He suggested offering courtesy apartments in Section 8 housing and low-income communities to both bring officers into the city and bolster community networking.
Kent twice said he believes houses of worship and clergy should be brought in to ongoing discussions and communication efforts for community policing.
“As police we get stuck on your community meetings and quarterly meetings, but our average community member doesn’t care to come out to that,” Kent said. “If we’re going to get involved, we have to get on their ground.”
Complete applications for the candidates are available online.