Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul.

A comprehensive reorganization of the Baton Rouge Police Department could save $10 million per year by eliminating some commander positions and reducing overtime hours, among other proposed changes — savings that would help support a long-awaited raise for the city's underpaid officers. 

Consultants have spent the past several months evaluating BRPD operations and compiling an efficiency study. A draft of that study lists 55 recommendations to streamline the department.

Those include reducing the number of high ranking officers in supervisory positions and limiting overtime, in addition to requiring LSU and Southern to contribute more toward the costs associated with traffic control and security services for football games.

The report also recommends eliminating two specialized divisions — air support and mounted patrol — and redistributing others to focus control at the district level. For example, members of the department's street crimes division, SWAT team and K9 unit would be assigned to specific police districts, instead of operating independently. That would result in a larger uniform patrol division and more boots on the ground, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said. 

Some positions now filled with sworn personnel would become civilian jobs, freeing up more officers to patrol the streets and complete investigations: for example, a sergeant overseeing bicycle registration, one lieutenant and one corporal assigned to fleet management, and a sergeant in charge of facilities. Researchers concluded such positions "do not appear to require the use of police powers."

The efficiency study comes after a pay study last year that showed Baton Rouge cops are paid on average about 30 percent less than their counterparts at peer law enforcement agencies. Researchers estimated that bringing salaries up to par would cost about $21 million a year — barely more than double what the proposed reorganization is expected to save.

Paul said he hasn't finished reviewing the draft efficiency study, including estimated savings that he said could end up being smaller than what the consultants presented. 

"I don't like to comment on drafts," Paul said. "But nobody's getting demoted and nobody's losing their job. We're not going to take a captain and put him on the streets tomorrow. … The bottom line is change won't happen overnight."

A final version of the study is expected to be released in the near future. The chief said that in general he agrees with the vast majority of the recommendations, but some will require modification or will be passed over. He said he doesn't plan to scrap the department's police horses or helicopters anytime soon, though the programs could see change on the horizon. 

"This is shocking to the conscience of some people because cultures are hard to change," Paul said. "But we can't keep doing things a certain way because that's how we've always done them."

The chief took office in January 2018 and has pledged to seek a raise for his officers. Negotiations on a new union contract have stalled pending a resolution to questions about low salaries. 

"Right now I'm listening to recommendations and concerns from the men and women of the police department. I value their opinion," Paul said. "But the whole purpose of this is to help us identify savings so we can give our Baton Rouge police officers a raise."

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Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome also said the proposed changes would help "provide badly needed pay raises to our officers." She and Paul both emphasized they're seeking as much input as possible from the officers themselves, hoping to build a team effort and garner widespread internal support before implementing anything. 

Sgt. Bryan Taylor, president of the Baton Rouge police union, said he's overall supportive of efforts to streamline department operations and free up funds for boosting salaries, but some of the recommendations aren't feasible. Taylor said he's confident BRPD leadership is taking into account the opinions and concerns of officers, not making rash decisions about which changes to implement. 

"We as a department should always be open to change, but change for the sake of change is never the best practice," he said. "The institutional knowledge within the department will (help determine) which recommendations will be accepted."

Taylor also noted that funding for a pay raise can't all come from within the department, so city officials "have to pull their weight as well to get our officers the compensation that they have earned and deserve."

East Baton Rouge Metro Council approved spending $200,000 on the study, which began in spring of 2019 and involved interviews with more than 80 officers, ride-alongs and extensive research comparing BRPD operations with national best practices. Management Partners, a Cincinnati-based firm that specializes in consulting with governments about how to operate more efficiently, completed the assessment. 

Paul said the consultants have prior law enforcement experience and extensive knowledge of the latest best practices. He noted, however, that he has no intention of making major changes overnight. Implementation will happen gradually, and in most cases positions will be eliminated through attrition.

The end result could be a slightly smaller staffing allotment for the department, though the actual size of the police force is unlikely to change when factoring in the roughly 50 current vacancies, Paul said. Some of the positions the consultants suggested as extraneous are: assistant district commanders, night commanders, a lieutenant in the K9 division, some firing range and training academy staff, mounted patrol officers, air support officers and 11 officers assigned to uniform patrol. 

Cutting those 11 uniform patrol positions would save $1.1 million a year, according to the report. Reducing holiday overtime hours could save another $1.6 million a year, and a fully implemented telephone reporting unit, allowing police to handle reports of minor crimes via phone instead of in person, could mean an additional $1.8 million a year saved. Those are the three biggest sources of potential savings. 

Overall the consultants proposed streamlining the department structure, which currently has 30 specialized units. "Such a complex plan with a plethora of units," the consultants say, "hinders communication, efficient use of personnel, cross training and career development, and can lead to unnecessary expenses such as overtime cost." 

The recommended structural changes include creating another deputy chief's position and organizing the department into four bureaus reporting to the chief. 

A new records management system, which the consultants called the best they'd ever seen, will also improve efficiency, as will limiting officer responses to home and business alarm calls that are mostly false alarms. The department's new Real Time Crime Center, which is slated to open in the coming weeks, will use technology to analyze crime data and collect evidence in real time.

Paul said Sgt. Myron Daniels, the internal affairs commander, will be assigned to a temporary position focused on evaluating and implementing the study's recommendations. 

Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.