In a move expected to boost the morale of city police officers, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's administration has proposed spending $2 million to buy 80 new vehicles to replace aging police units.
Both the interim police chief and a candidate to become chief have called the condition of the vehicles one of the police department's most demoralizing and complained about issues.
The city-parish had extra money from sales tax collections this year, which Broome's administration will ask the Metro Council later this month to spend mostly on public safety improvements. She has proposed spending $2 million on new police cars; $500,000 on new fire department vehicles; $500,000 on a new fire station in the Lee Drive/Burbank Drive area; $500,000 on building improvements to the sheriff's headquarters and $1 million on Raising Cane's River Center upgrades.
New police cars generally cost around $32,000 apiece. As BRPD and the city-parish's budgets have grown more and more stretched in recent years, the department has had to scrimp on new car purchases.
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"We know the fleet is a huge issue," said city-parish Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel about the proposal to spend $2 million on new cars.
Interim BRPD Chief Jonny Dunnam said the department needs around 149 vehicles to replace the worst-off units in their fleet. He said those in the worst condition are Chevrolet Impalas from 2006 and 2007 with more than 150,000 miles on them.
"Eighty goes a long way; that's more than half of the vehicles we need," Dunnam said in an interview. "I'm ecstatic about it. It will go a long way toward morale."
Dunnam said the bad condition of vehicles and low pay are the two most-often mentioned complaints in exit interviews for officers leaving BRPD.
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Baton Rouge Police Lt. Robert McGarner also said Nov. 30 during his interviewed for the BRPD chief position that the aging fleet is a leading driver of poor morale in the department. McGarner said bringing in new vehicles would help to keep officers at BRPD and to recruit new officers as well.
"Unfortunately, there have been times like [McGarner] elaborated last night when we've got officers to work but we don't have units," Dunnam said Friday.
Dunnam also said BRPD carried forward enough money in their budget to recently order 40 vehicles for $1.2 million. That brings down their total of vehicles needing to be replaced to around 29.
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Aside from those, BRPD also recently received 96 new vehicles to replace those that were flooded in August 2016, according to Gissel and city-parish Finance Director Marsha Hanlon. FEMA paid 90 percent of the cost of the flooded cars, around $2.9 million.
The department has been able to replace just 144 vehicles since 2013, excluding those that FEMA is reimbursing. At the same time, the average age of a Baton Rouge cop far has more than doubled since 2009, The Advocate reported this July.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that a Baton Rouge fire station expected to receive $500,000 is in the Lee Drive/Burbank Drive area.