The Baton Rouge Metro Council failed to pass an ordinance forcing police officers to wear body cameras after an emotional debate Wednesday that touched on racial issues with local law enforcement.
For months, Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle has driven an effort to mandate the cameras on Baton Rouge officers by a certain deadline. Initially, her proposal called for funding to outfit all officers with the technology by Jan. 1, 2016. On Wednesday evening, after compromising with the Mayor-President’s Office and Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr., she pushed the deadline to December 2016.
The measure was ultimately killed, however, because some council members said they are concerned about requiring the expensive technology without knowing the price tag.
“We’re still talking about writing a check when we don’t know what the cost is,” said Councilman Trae Welch.
Dabadie has previously estimated outfitting the force with cameras and computer servers to archive the videos could cost up to $3 million. He said the agency can better estimate the costs once a pilot program of 100 cameras rolls out. That’s expected to happen in a month.
But Marcelle and the other supporters said they wanted to force the city-parish to prioritize spending for the technology. Marcelle noted that while this police chief and administration have committed support for the cameras, the next group of leaders could opt against financing the equipment, which she considers a top safety priority.
Some of the black council members mentioned concerns about relations between city police forces and black communities that have made headlines in recent months, such as the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the more recent incident of an officer who was accused of being too aggressive and pulling his gun on a group of black teenagers at a pool party in Texas.
“I don’t expect you to understand because you’re not a black man and you don’t have any black children,” Councilwoman Tara Wicker said to John Delgado, who opposed the measure because of concerns about financing.
“Disproportionately, we already know the issue is that young African-American men are being assaulted by white police officers and that’s the elephant in the room,” Wicker said. “Their job is to serve and protect everybody, and the unfortunate thing is that it’s not happening effectively. … In urban communities, it’s not happening.”
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who ended up voting against the ordinance, said she agreed there is an issue with police targeting black males, but she is concerned an unfunded mandate could result in cuts down the line in other areas.
“My son is 37 years old, and he has been stopped by a police officer and treated badly,” she said. “African-American males are picked out and targeted more than any other demographic.”
In an interview, Dabadie said he is doing everything in his power to make sure the officers are “fair and unbiased.”
“I’ve worked hard to root out the bad apples,” he said, while acknowledging there may be some rogue officers still on the force.
Marcelle said she was baffled the council would object to the issue, in spite of the fact both Dabadie and the Mayor-President’s Office offered their support.
Dabadie and William Daniel, chief administrative officer to the mayor-president, told the council they backed the proposal. However, every time a council member cast doubt on fiscal consequences and concerns, they agreed with that argument.
Mayor-President Kip Holden told the council he was trying to stay out of the debate. But he then cautioned the council against creating debt in the future by forcing the chief’s hand.
He agreed with other suggestions by the council to allow the pilot program to run its course before making financial commitments.
“Let’s try these cameras out so we don’t have unnecessary debt,” he said.
Ultimately, Marcelle, Chauna Banks-Daniel, Ronnie Edwards and Wicker voted in favor of the proposed ordinance. Councilmen Trae Welch, Scott Wilson, Donna Collins-Lewis, Joel Boé and Delgado voted against the measure. Buddy Amoroso chose not to vote.
Chandler Loupe and Ryan Heck were not present.
In other business, the Metro Council appointed Stephen Raborn as the new East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar of Voters.
There were 24 applicants for the position, which oversees voter registration and elections in the parish. Elaine Lamb, who was registrar since 2002, retired last month.
Earlier this week, Delgado said he believed a number of council members were aligning behind former Metro Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison in a move he described as “cronyism.” Addison served for 12 years as a councilman.
Raborn has previously served as a registrar of voters in Fort Worth, Dallas, and he worked at the East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar’s office for 13 years.
It came down to Raborn and Addison as the top contenders.
In the first vote, Addison had the support of Heck, Wicker, Marcelle, Collins-Lewis and Edwards. But after both candidates failed to garner a majority, Heck switched his vote.