Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said Tuesday he is open to rolling out body cameras for deputies but that the Sheriff's Office can’t afford it, especially after taking a $5 million hit in property tax collections after the 2016 floods.
Gautreaux addressed a group of about 25 people at a Ronald Reagan Newsmaker Luncheon where he touched on the difficulties of working in law enforcement and his hopes for the office. But Gautreaux said tight funding has become especially problematic, noting that the Sheriff's Office operated with a $2.6 million deficit in 2017. It is projected to have a surplus of $1.6 million in 2018.
Though the Sheriff's Office received some federal reimbursements to replace patrol units and other equipment lost when floods inundated Baton Rouge in 2016, Gautreaux said, there was no reimbursement to recoup lost property tax revenue. The Sheriff's Office is almost entirely dependent upon property tax money, unlike the Baton Rouge Police Department, which also has had funding woes.
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The Sheriff's Office has more than 100 positions it cannot afford to fill, Gautreaux said. Fifty are in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and 36 are in the uniform patrol division, according to officials with the Sheriff's Office. Those working in other "proactive" Sheriff's Office divisions have had to work uniform patrol instead, making crime fighting efforts more reactive than preferred, spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said.
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While the Police Department had a high-profile rollout of body cameras last year for every officer, the Sheriff's Office still has not added body cameras for all of its deputies. Gautreaux estimated Tuesday it would cost between $3 million and $5 million annually to outfit the entire department with cameras and to store and archive the footage.
"I'm not against it whatsoever," Gautreaux said. "But what's kept me from it right now is the economics of it. We just don't have that money. ... I'm hoping state government will mandate it so they'll have to fund it."
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Gautreaux said he teaches deputies to always act as though their actions are being videoed and scrutinized and that the Sheriff's Office has video systems in all of its patrol vehicles.
Still, Gautreaux said, it has become harder than ever to recruit people to work for the Sheriff's Office, given the strife in recent years between law enforcement and the communities they serve. He called it a national problem and repeated that he hopes no other sheriff or police chief will have to lose officers the way those in Baton Rouge did in 2016. An ambush on Airline Highway left three law enforcement officers dead and another critically injured.
"It's harder and harder to get some young person to decide I want to go do this for a living," Gautreaux said. He said he does not sugarcoat the difficulties when he talks to potential recruits about the job, but if someone says they still want to do it, "I grab hold of them close and say, 'Come with me, son.'"
Gautreaux also referenced differences between the Sheriff's Office and the Police Department that have kept his department away from some of the controversies that have bubbled up in the Police Department. He said it's harder for the Police Department to weed out bad officers because Civil Service Laws complicate a chief's ability to enact discipline within the department and that officers who deserve to be fired can still be reinstated through Civil Service appeals.
He said he has known newly installed Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul for years and he wishes him good luck.
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