The three law enforcement officers killed in a shooting rampage Sunday lived in Livingston Parish, east of Baton Rouge, among the suburban communities many officers call home.
But a controversial measure placed on the city-parish's Metro Council agenda Thursday would prohibit people like those officers, who live outside of city limits, from applying to work for the Baton Rouge Police Department in the future. The ordinance would require all of BRPD's fresh hires starting in 2017 to live within city limits, which some say would be another hindrance for a police department already struggling to find recruits.
The concepts of community policing and police officers living in the neighborhoods they patrol gained traction with many local leaders after Baton Rouge police officers killed Alton Sterling earlier this month.
Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel said she and LaMont Cole are sponsoring the ordinance for residency requirements, which is up for introduction at the council’s July 27 meeting. It would come up for a public hearing and a vote on Aug. 10 unless a majority on the 12-member council vote not to introduce it, something that has happened on some controversial measures in the past.
Banks-Daniel and some other council members say they believe that police officers who live within city limits are better able to connect with the neighborhoods they patrol and police.
In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina forced thousands of people to seek refuge in Baton Roug…
"The purpose is so that we can have a situation where we have officers and communities that are working together, where there's a continual police presence in the community," Banks-Daniel said.
But the timing of the ordinance has outraged other council members, some of whom say they hope it will be pulled from the agenda next week.
"We haven't even buried the officers that we've lost and now we're asking to make wholesale changes to the department that basically was ambushed and murdered in a very horrific scene?" said Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe. "I don't even have words to describe how I feel."
Councilman Buddy Amoroso called the timing of the ordinance "a slap in the face" to slain officers Matthew Gerald and Montrell Jackson and slain deputy Brad Garafola. Councilman Joel Boé pointed out that his entire Metro Council district in the southeastern part of the parish is outside of the city limits, which would make all of the residents in his district ineligible to apply to become police officers.
The proposal also drew a sharp rebuke from the Baton Rouge Union of Police, with the union’s president, C. Bryan Taylor expressing disgust over what he characterized as political pandering in the midst of tragedy.
“Their need for political gain is nauseating!" Taylor wrote in a text message.
A similar residency requirement for police officers, firefighters and EMS in New Orleans was scrapped in 2014 as a move to help recruiting officers there. City Council members there worried that it was impeding qualified applicants from applying.
The BRPD has emphasized its challenges in attracting new officers to the police force in the past few years. In a recent interview, Chief Carl Dabadie said the department does not have the manpower for the type of community policing that many politicians have said they want to see.
As downtown Baton Rouge evolves into a more vibrant urban center, the Police Department has …
Dabadie has also said the department has tried a variety of tactics to recruit police in Baton Rouge -- targeting black officers for hiring in particular in order to diversify the police force's makeup. He said they have made recent strides, and the last four police academy classes have had 67 percent to 75 percent officers of color.
"We've worked really hard to get our inner-city minority applicants to join the Baton Rouge Police Department," Dabadie said last week. "But when you have a part of your community that doesn't trust police, it's really hard to get them to come work for the police."
Another hindrance when BRPD recruits and hires officers has been their low starting salaries, especially when compared to Louisiana State Police. Spokesmen for each agency have previously said the starting salary for a Baton Rouge officer is $32,979, while the starting pay for State Police troopers is $46,610.
The police chief and Mayor-President Kip Holden's office did not respond to messages Thursday asking about their positions on the specific residency ordinance proposed by Banks-Daniel and Cole.
Banks-Daniel said cultural differences abound among people based on where they live. She said officers from outside of Baton Rouge's city limits "really have no relationship with the persons in which they've made a pledge to serve and protect."
Banks-Daniel disagreed with the idea that residency requirements would hurt recruiting. She said the black community in particular would be more trusting of the police if they knew that they came from the same neighborhoods as them.
She also defended the timing of the ordinance, pointing out the dozens of other pieces of legislation the Metro Council will be asked to vote on next week.
"We're going to mourn and grieve and pay our respects to our fallen heroes, but at the end of the day, we still have an entire city-parish government that we have to carry on," Banks-Daniel said. She said did not know that the fallen officers lived outside of Baton Rouge's city limits.
Councilwomen Erika Green and Donna Collins-Lewis, both of whom are black, like Banks-Daniel and Cole, said they agree with the residency requirements though they will have to look more closely at the particulars of the ordinance.
Collins-Lewis said the Metro Council should be willing to give the ordinance a chance before saying that it would adversely affect recruitment. Green said she would like to see a requirement that at least a certain percentage of the police force live within city limits.
"This is a step forward, we've got a lot more stuff to discuss with policing," Green said.
But Councilmen Scott Wilson, John Delgado, Boé, Loupe and Amoroso, all of whom are white, said they are adamantly opposed to the proposal.
Delgado said giving police pay raises is a more important issue to focus on rather than the residency requirements. He said the higher costs of living in Baton Rouge and the low salaries of police officers are part of the reason why many police officers choose to live in other parts of the parish or in other parishes.
"Pay our officers what they deserve and maybe they could afford to live in Baton Rouge," Delgado said.
Many residents in Wilson, Amoroso and Loupe's districts would also be excluded from applying for jobs as police officers under the new ordinance.
Boé also pointed out that BRPD is paid for via both property taxes and general fund money. The money for the general fund comes from taxes that people throughout the parish pay, and he said it would not be fair for people who pay taxes toward the police department to be excluded from applying for work for it.
"It's so ridiculous and so outlandish right now, it doesn't even deserve to be heard," Boé said.
Ryan Heck withheld judgment of the residency proposal, but wondered if it would pass legal muster and noted the recruiting difficulties the department is already having.
Loupe said he hopes Banks-Daniel and Cole withdraw the proposed ordinance. He said he does not want it to command attention when the attention should be on the fallen officers.
"Right now, we're in the midst of burying two city policeman and one sheriff's deputy," Amoroso said. "The timing of this is absolutely despicable. This is not the time to have this dialogue, it is very shameful that this is even coming up to be introduced."