The Lafayette Fire and Police Civil Service Board on Wednesday kept in place the bachelor’s degree requirement for the city’s police chief, going against a proposal pushed by Mayor-President Joel Robideaux and backed by the police union to allow extensive law enforcement experience in lieu of a degree.
The board voted unanimously to keep the chief requirements in place — a college degree plus 10 years of law enforcement experience in a department similar in size or larger than Lafayette’s.
Those requirements disqualify interim Police Chief Reginald Thomas from applying for the job as Robideaux searches to replace former Chief Jim Craft, who retired in January.
Thomas, who was appointed to the provisional post by Robideaux, does not have a four-year degree but does have an associate degree in criminal justice and 25 years of experience at the department.
Thomas said after the meeting that he was disappointed but plans to continue focusing on leading the department as interim chief.
“I’ll get back to work,” he said. “It’s the ruling at this time. I will have to accept it.”
Robideaux has the authority to select the next police chief, but the person he chooses must meet the qualifications set by the Fire and Police Civil Service Board.
The mayor-president had proposed three new tiers of chief qualifications: allowing applicants to have a bachelor’s degree plus 15 years of law enforcement experience; an associate degree or 69 hours of college coursework plus 20 years’ experience; or a high school diploma with some college coursework and 25 years of experience.
The Police Association of Lafayette backed the first two tiers, and the Office of State Examiner, which advises local civil service boards, also supported allowing experience to offset the lack of a degree.
Most large departments in the state make provisions for considering a chief candidate’s experience in lieu of a four-year degree.
Thomas and several community members who addressed the board Wednesday said relaxing the degree requirement would open the job to a more diverse field of candidates, including minorities who might not have had the opportunities to obtain a four-year degree early in life or while working full-time on the police force.
“All we are saying is consider experience. Don’t just throw out people who dedicated their lives to Lafayette PD,” said Andres Landor, a retired Lafayette officer.
Thomas told the board he was simply too busy with job and family to pursue a bachelor’s degree and worked to put both his wife and daughter through college and law school.
“Stuff in life happens,” he said.
Thomas, who is black, also said the diversity issues were underscored by the make-up of the civil service board: four white males.
“When you have white males over 40 years old all thinking the same way, then you have issues,” he said. “People do not like to hear that, but this board should look at the way it looks.”
The board has had minority members, but, Chairman Jason Boudreaux said, the board is selected by others, including employees of the fire and police departments, and sitting board members play no role in the process.
“We don’t get to pick the board,” he said.
Boudreaux argued the issue was not about race but fairness to the officers who worked hard to get a bachelor’s degree to advance their careers.
“You disadvantage the people who get a degree by widening the field of candidates,” he said.
The board on Wednesday was scheduled to vote on a tweaked version of the chief requirements that kept the degree requirement in place but added stricter requirements for law enforcement supervisory experience and stipulated the degree should be in criminal justice, public administration, homeland security, business administration, business management or a related field.
The board ultimately took no action on those proposed changes and opted instead to leave the current requirements in place.