Mom: Port Allen officer racially profiled my son in traffic stop; police chief vigorously denies claim _lowres (copy)

Port Allen Police Chief Esdron Brown speaks at a 2014 breakfast meeting.

PORT ALLEN — Two recent hires for the city's police department didn't last a week before calling it quits, leading a councilman to suggest — unsuccessfully, it turns out — a moratorium on any new hires until they can figure out why the department has such a high turnover rate. 

The two recent departures are cops who were just hired July 11 and were among 30 officers Police Chief Esdron Brown has hired since January 2013. More than half that number — 16 — have either quit, been fired or retired since he was elected to his first term in 2012.

The police department is budgeted for 16 full-time police officers.

Brown has said Port Allen isn't the only small-town police department struggling to retain officers. One major factor, he said, is competition from surrounding towns and parishes that pay higher wages, provide more-affordable health insurance and offer more specialized training and better equipment.

Starting pay in Port Allen for officers who have completed Peace Officers Standards and Training is $45,186 annually. In comparison, starting salary for P.O.S.T.-certified officers in Brusly is $30,720 a year, in New Roads it's about $24,000 annually and in Baton Rouge it's nearly $40,000 a year.

Councilman Garry Hubble says he's not buying Brown's arguments and will refuse to keep approving Brown's requests for permission to hire if the police chief can't stop the police station's revolving door from spinning. 

"He claims it’s happening all over the country, but when you look at the numbers, it's disproportionate to what we’re going through," Hubble said. "For us to sit there and keep advertising for positions and hiring folks without remedying the problem is the definition of insanity." 

At Wednesday's council meeting, Hubble tried to block Brown's request to advertise his two recently vacated slots by voting against the measure, along with fellow councilman Hugh "Hootie" Reviere. 

Brown, however, will get the opportunity to make the hires thanks to Councilmen Ray Helen Lawrence, Brandon Brown and Mayor Richard Lee, who had to step in a break the tie vote on advertising the vacant positions. 

Councilman Carey Williams was absent from the meeting. 

Talk over the turnover in the police department comes at a time when Brown also faces criticism over an unsolved murder from the family and friends of a 28-year-old Fatrell Queen, who was fatally shot inside his home in November. They criticized Brown and his department for not properly communicating with them about the investigation and not bringing in outside agencies to assist in the investigation. 

And in June, a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed against Brown by former officer Patrick Marshall, who claimed the police chief tried to force him to attend mandatory religious counseling sessions, and when the officer refused, Brown retaliated with disciplinary actions that included threats of suspension or job termination. Marshall resigned in November 2017. Brown has denied those allegations.

Despite giving Brown the approval to seek more officers, every council member expressed the same concerns over the police department's turnover rate, but none seemed all that eager to entertain Hubble's suggestion for a moratorium. 

"If we can't do that, I would like to have a separate entity come in an investigate the problem," Hubble said, likening the police department to a "hornet's nest." "The numbers don't lie. I threw that out to see where it would go. Guess the council wants to keep hiring and keep hiring since I don’t’ see what we have now changing."

The two officers who recently left were among the three the council approved hiring for at its July 11 meeting. According to minutes from the meeting, all three officers started working July 25.

According to the city's chief financial officer, one new hire quit after working only two days and the other quit by July 31. 

Brown said the officers leaving had nothing to do with the department but he couldn't get into details since it was a personnel matter. 

Mayor Lee said he read the notice one of the officers submitted and she praised the police department but also didn't provide specific details why she left. 

"There's nothing I’m doing to run someone off," Brown said. "If they want to leave, it's because they can't measure up to my high standards." 

Brown said any blame being thrown his way over the department's turnover rate also falls on the shoulders of the City Council, which holds the purse strings for his department. 

"They determine the budget and what kind of money I get," Brown said. "They determine the kinds of equipment, training and cars my officers get to do their job."

As for Hubble's continued criticism, Brown said, "Why is he complaining when Port Allen was recently named the third safest city in the state? Seems like they should be giving the police department a pat on the back." 

The National Council for Home Safety and Security rated Louisiana municipalities in 2017 for safety, based on violent crimes and property crimes per population. Harahan and Patterson came in first and second, respectively. Port Allen came in third. The council is a national trade association for licensed alarm installers and contractors.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.