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Mayor Sharon Weston Broome announces policy changes for the Baton Rouge Police.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

The smooth agreement between the police union and new Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome shows that change is possible. As a practical political reality, the impressions of reform are probably about as much as she could reasonably expect from her first weeks in office.

After that, things get harder.

Characteristically, Broome — a longtime legislator in the State Capitol — looked for grounds for agreement and found them, on paper.

The Baton Rouge Union of Police backed two of her opponents last fall and has been very cool to her calls for a new chief. That's not unreasonable, as many community leaders believe Chief Carl Dabadie has done a good job. Broome's predecessor, 12-year incumbent Kip Holden, had stressed support for law enforcement, even through the tumult of last summer. That's when Alton Sterling died during a struggle with police outside a Baton Rouge convenience store, prompting a federal probe.   

But that turmoil is a real issue for Broome, who is a relative outsider at city hall. As a candidate, she pushed change. The new agreement shows how she is aiming at consensus wherever she can find it.

The new use-of-force policies announced by Broome codify what have been training principles and — according to police union head C. Bryan Taylor — established practice by officers in the field. Taylor told The Advocate's Andrea Gallo that he was trained in each of them when he went through the police academy in 1995; he added that he is happy to see them written into policy if they make the public more comfortable.

Dabadie had earlier said that some increased civilian oversight of policing in the urban neighborhoods should be considered.

This is progress? Well, it's a lot better than nothing, for a new mayor seeking to give the appearance of change. What it underlines, though, is that with a new African-American mayor, the divides over how police work is done within the larger community are a huge issue — and one that Broome's cautious approach in these early days might not be enough to bridge.

The community group Together Baton Rouge released its analysis of drug possession arrests, and on the surface, it seems quite supportive of Broome's approach. But it challenges her to do more.

There is a high correlation of race and class to the level of low-level drug possession arrests, not much of a surprise. The data — as TBR spokesman Broderick Bagert emphasized — is suggestive of a disparate impact in the north Baton Rouge neighborhoods, but hardly prescriptive of what needs to happen on the ground there.

As Bagert told the Press Club of Baton Rouge, the parishioners of TBR's north Baton Rouge member congregations are among those in the forefront of calling the police for help. Effective policing is vital to the social and economic recovery of the northside.

Dabadie's work in the BRAVE crime-fighting initiative, for which he would have been properly remembered but for the police shootings of last year, was based on a combination of community relations in targeted neighborhoods and aggressive policing of bad actors, those responsible for most violent crimes.

As we sing "Kumbaya" around the BRUP campfire, with hopefully a respectful transition from Dabadie to a new chief, improving the underlying fundamentals of public safety is still the bottom line for a mayor. That involves new mental-health initiatives, of the sort that narrowly failed being funded in a December vote. A police pay raise, also a big-ticket item requiring a public vote and a big selling job from Broome, probably should be considered this year.

But there also should be a recognition that perceptions in white and black communities are different. That means residents often approach the same problems, even the same data, from different directions.

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