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Baton Rouge Police Dept. Chief Murphy Paul 

Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said raises are coming for his underpaid officers, but exactly when and how much remains unknown.

Based on comments Murphy made Tuesday at the first of several budget hearings the Metro Council will hold in the coming weeks, pay bumps for Baton Rouge police officers will come sooner rather than later. 

"I'm confident we'll be able to recognize dollars within our existing budget that'll allow us to come before you and ask that you reconsider allocating those dollars for raises for our officers," Paul told the handful for council members who sat in on Tuesday's hearing for the city-parish's proposed 2020 budget.

In an interview after the hearing, Paul said the funds he expects to scrub from his department's projected $93 million budget next year won't be anywhere near the $21 million needed to put police pay at the level, or better, than surrounding law enforcement agencies. But he thinks it'll at least be "a couple million dollars," he told city-parish leaders. 

He added that he and Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome are committed to finding the rest of the money it'll take close the pay gap for his officers.

The Baton Rouge Police Department was among the first of the city-parish departments reviewing their proposed budgets with council members on Tuesday. The Baton Rouge Fire Department and the city-parish's Department of Building and Grounds did brief budget presentations as well. 

Paul's discussion on police pay, a debate that has stretched on for the past several years, was prompted by Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who asked the chief about his retention rate and the department's morale since Broome's $1 billion budget proposal for next year doesn't include pay increases for his officers.

In April, results from a long-awaited pay study revealed that Baton Rouge police officers are severely underpaid compared to peer law enforcement agencies, many of which offer up to 40% more in annual salaries for the same positions. 

That report says the city-parish would need about $21 million to close that gap through across-the-board pay bumps. 

Baton Rouge police officers are paid $33,968 a year after graduating from the police academy and spending six months on the job. As of August, the starting salary at the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office was $38,153 annually; starting salary at Louisiana State Police was $49,448 a year. 

City-parish leaders and police officials have previously pinpointed the Police Department's low pay as a primary factor in the department's challenge to retain and recruit good officers. In August, the department was short 100 officers of its full allotment — the lowest count its ranks had been in the past three years. 

Paul said Tuesday there are currently 70 vacancies, 12 of which he'll fill this month with new hires. 

The 2020 budget includes funding for another police academy class of 55 officers. 

"Once we have that class we'll be where we need to be," he told council members. 

As for raises, Paul acknowledged the recent vote to create the city of St. George in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish did spark some uncertainty among his ranks, given the warnings from Broome that the incorporation would result in budget cuts of as much as 20 percent throughout the city-parish. 

St. George's incorporation, which Broome is legally contesting, is expected to siphon somewhere between $48 million to $60 million annually from the city-parish general fund.

While that legal fight plays out through the courts, Paul said, recommendations from the city-parish's ongoing efficiency study will highlight areas where not only his department can tighten the purse strings, but other departments as well, possibly netting the additional revenue needed to implement pay increases for his officers. 

Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel noted that every $600,000 the administration can reduce in spending equates to a 1% pay bump for police officers. 

"I think you'll be pleased with the recommendations," Paul told council members about the pending efficiency study. "They'll give us a path going forward to us being more responsible with the tax dollars given to us." 

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