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Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul discusses the under-construction Real Time Crime Center at police headquarters, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019

City officials are looking for ways to make the Baton Rouge Police Department more efficient, which could help free up resources amid ongoing discussions about boosting salaries for underpaid officers. 

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council authorized spending $200,000 on an efficiency study for the department when it approved the 2019 operating budget in December, and Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said consultants started their research within the past few weeks.

The council had already approved an additional $300,000 for a separate but similar study of overall city-parish operations, which started last year and is ongoing. Both studies are being done by Management Partners, a Cincinnati-based firm that specializes in consulting with governments about how to operate more efficiently.

Questions about the police study arose during a recent Metro Council meeting, which included yet another discussion of a study showing Baton Rouge officers are compensated well below peer agencies, many of which can offer salaries up to 40% more for similar jobs.

The council recently received the results of that study, but officials haven't indicated how they'll address the disparities. 

Paul said the efficiency research is still in the preliminary stages but that consultants will likely find "many opportunities for better efficiency" during their review of department operations, which will focus on "getting the right people in the right places doing the right things."

This isn't the first time Paul has mentioned the potential benefits of placing civilians in certain positions that don't require an actual officer — one of several changes that he has said could help the department "do more with less" in the face of longstanding funding shortages. The current chief took office in January 2018 and has focused on implementing what he calls 21st-century policing practices. 

Paul said the consultants will also evaluate the overall size of the department, which now has a total allotment of 698 officers. About 10% of those positions are vacant, however, largely because of recruitment challenges.

Department leaders have long decried a manpower shortage they say makes their job more difficult and places additional stress on officers. 

The two consultants completing the study, who were present at Wednesday's Metro Council meeting to answer questions from council members, said they have more than 80 years of law enforcement experience between them.

They've already interviewed dozens of officers and have started their assessment of department operations, including manpower, use of technology, overtime and general allocation of resources.

"We are confident that because of their expertise and familiarity with best practices, their recommendations will be top notch," Paul said. "We'll be able to move forward from there."

He said the study is expected to be complete within about six months, and the results will factor into discussions about police pay.

Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.