Local businesspeople have created a new foundation to back law enforcement and to foster stronger bonds between officers and the community. 

The Baton Rouge Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Foundation combines community engagement, local research and law enforcement support, all under the umbrella of improving public safety in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Leaders said their metric of success will be when there is a drop in the parish's number of homicides, which have spiked in recent months amid the coronavirus pandemic and recently surpassed the previous year's total. 

Clay Young, chairman of the nonprofit foundation and owner of Clay Young Enterprises, said he hopes the organization will "help build a bridge between the agencies … and the communities they serve."

Young said rumblings of the initiative began more than a year ago when Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said he wanted an organization that encompasses all local law enforcement agencies and that also pulls in the community. 

"Law enforcement and the communities need each other," Young said. 

Not only will the foundation fund law enforcement agencies, but it will also assist organizations already conducting outreach efforts in the community, such as TRUCE, an anti-violence group targeting at-risk youth, and The Butterfly Society, a domestic violence nonprofit. 

"We have 1 million dollars committed with the expectation of other donors committing funds to the foundation," Young said.

Chief Paul and East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux were both present at the foundation's unveiling on Tuesday afternoon, along with East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III and other local law enforcement officials. 

Young said the volunteer board is mostly made up of businesspeople. Southern University and LSU are also collaborating with the foundation to conduct research — one focusing on community response, the other on law enforcement wellness and development. 

Southern University will contribute to the community component of the foundation's mission through the school's sociology and criminal justice departments. The university plans to send researchers into the community to assess individual situations, implement programs to bring law enforcement closer to residents and — eventually — suggest policy changes.

The goal is to build more trust, encourage racial justice and provide transparency between law enforcement and the people they serve.

LSU, on the other hand, will focus on workforce and leadership development to support the mental health and wellness of law enforcement, while also helping them to develop leadership skills. 

The research phase should begin soon and will likely last the duration of 2021 before implementation. 

"We're not saying that this is some panacea that is going to fix things overnight," Young said. "That's an impossible thing. We're just starting a process to do it one brick at a time."

Email Jacqueline DeRobertis at jderobertis@theadvocate.com