Close to 40 people have applied for the nascent Baton Rouge community police ambassador program aimed at reducing tensions between officers and the people they serve.
At an informational meeting Tuesday, organizers said they’re still planning on a January start date for the program — over a year in the making. For the next step, they plan to contact applicants and confirm eligibility before announcing the list of selected ambassadors sometime before Christmas.
About a dozen people attended the meeting, hosted by Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who helped found a police policy committee last year after the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling and subsequent ambush on law enforcement that killed three officers and injured three others. The ambassador program arose from those committee meetings and — after a series of recent recruitment meetings in neighborhoods across the city — has moved another step closer to fruition.
Baton Rouge police have pledged support of the program. Both interim Chief Jonny Dunnam and former Chief Carl Dabadie were involved in discussions throughout the spring and summer. Dunnam has offered to help train the ambassadors.
Wicker said Tuesday she hopes for four volunteer ambassadors from each of the five police districts within city limits: a total of around 20 ambassadors who will work as liaisons between residents and the police, serving for two years each.
Some applications were incomplete — including several mysteriously without names — and some districts may end up with fewer than the four desired ambassadors, depending on whether more people apply or current applicants are deemed ineligible, Wicker said.
Ambassadors must live within city limits and be 18 or older and cannot be involved with any pending criminal proceedings. They must also live in the district they represent.
For districts with more than four applications, organizers plan to draw names among qualified applicants and keep a list of alternates.
After months and months of public discussion, Wicker said seeing the program finally coming together is immensely rewarding. She compared the planning process to a pregnancy and the meeting Tuesday to giving birth.
“I feel elated. This was birthed out of the realness and the transparency and the integrity here in this room,” she said. “This group has really become like family. They’re very committed. … Everybody here feels a sense of ownership and now it’s a matter of allowing the program to move forward and be successful.”
Meeting participants also discussed the possibility of establishing an advisory group for the ambassador program. The advisory group would consist of people involved in the planning process over the past several months who could provide some oversight or advice later on.
Wicker said the advisory group could provide a “reservoir of information” for program participants. “We’re hopeful that what happened here in this room — this camaraderie and open discussion — is replicated and reproduced” among the ambassadors.