In a moment when protesters nationwide are calling for widespread police reform to root out racism within law enforcement ranks, Baton Rouge's mayor said Monday morning she believes the city's police union has obstructed efforts to hold officers accountable when their behavior indicates they're not fit to serve the department.
"I'm going to be very transparent because now is not the time to hold back," Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said on the local radio show "Talk Louisiana" with Jim Engster. "Unfortunately as we try to make transformation within a system … many times the union is an obstruction to weeding out the bad cops. Every police officer isn't a bad cop and we know that. But there are some who shouldn't be in the police department."
Broome's comments came following several days of protests against police brutality in cities across the country, including Baton Rouge, following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement.
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Police reform became a central issue to Broome's campaign in 2016 and has continued to shape her time in office — efforts that have not won her support from the union. She was elected just months after the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling outside a Baton Rouge convenience store, which itself prompted widespread protests and was followed days later with a shooting attack on local law enforcement that killed three officers and wounded three more.
After taking office, Broome pressured Carl Dabadie to step down as chief, which he ultimately did. She later replaced him with current Police Chief Murphy Paul, who has himself butted heads with the union on numerous occasions both public and private — not least when he fired Blane Salamoni, the officer responsible for Sterling's death, and later apologized to communities of color in Baton Rouge for the department's past policing practices.
Paul said then that Salamoni was someone "who should have never, ever worn this uniform. Period." Meanwhile the union has pledged its support of Salamoni from the beginning, defending his actions and saying Paul's firing decision amounted to "character assassination."
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Broome's comments Monday suggest her track record with the city's police department could now become central to her reelection campaign in the months ahead as she seeks a second term.
"I'm on the ballot coming up, but I am not as committed to that ballot as I am to making sure that I do what's right and just for the people of this community," she said on the radio show. "Sometimes leadership is not popular. But this is a time that leaders across America are standing up and speaking out."
Broome noted that Paul was one of the first police chiefs nationwide to issue a public apology for what he described as "policing practices that have traumatized parts of our community." She said others are now following suit since Floyd's death and the subsequent civil unrest.
"Chiefs are apologizing all over America. They're uniting with citizens all over America. They're making commitments to do better with their departments," she said. "That's what we're seeing right now."
The attorney for the Baton Rouge Union of Police didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The organization has made a recent push for officer pay raises, a longstanding issue that has become more dire in recent years. A recent pay study found Baton Rouge police officers make about 30 percent less on average than their colleagues at comparable agencies, and another efficiency study found the department could save $10 million a year through reorganization — including eliminating some commander positions and reducing overtime hours, among other proposed changes — to help fund higher salaries.
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The union recently put up a billboard along Interstate 10 at the Perkins Road exit advocating for better pay. "How much more must we give till we get fair pay," it says.
That local debate continues as Floyd's death has created increased support for movements across the country to defund police departments and replace some officer responsibilities with civilian professionals like social workers.
Broome emphasized Monday that she does not plan to defund the Baton Rouge Police Department, noting the massive sacrifice from officers who choose to put their lives on the line.
"I need to be explicitly clear. That is not my plan at this time," she said. "We need public safety. … My plan is to bring consistent reform to the police department and to make sure that we look at our dollars and cents."
BRPD also announced Monday morning plans for an upcoming press conference to discuss ongoing police reform efforts in Baton Rouge. That will take place at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.