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From left, Kasey E. Williams, Curtlan T. Williams, Daniel C. Turner, Nathan A. Trasancos and other Baton Rouge Police Department academy cadets raise their hands as new officers, taking the oath of office led by East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III, background, near the end of the 86th Basic Training Academy graduation ceremony that culminated the 22-week program, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020 at Istrouma Baptist Church. A total of 27 from Baton Rouge and one from the Baker Police Dept. graduated, receiving their commissions and badges in front of family, friends, training staff and other officers. U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, BRPD Chief Murphy Paul, Jr., EBR Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, Class President Dylan M. Sherman and BTA Director of Training Lt. Jeff Williams all spoke.

For the second time in the past few months, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council will vote Wednesday to consider a modest pay raise for Baton Rouge police officers, who remain underpaid compared to their counterparts at other agencies.

After several years of stagnant wages, BRPD officers received a 3% salary bump at the start of 2021 after the council approved funding a $1.8 million annual increase in their 2021 operating budget. 

Now another 3% raise is on the table, again without increasing tax bills for Baton Rouge residents, thanks to an unexpected pot of state funding the Louisiana Legislature appropriated for BRPD during a special session last fall.

Officials have a plan to temporarily cover the cost using the roughly $2 million in state funds issued as reimbursement for COVID-related expenses incurred by the city police department. That $2 million would fund the raises through the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, officials said. Then "departmental efficiencies" — ongoing efforts to make the department more efficient, including through reorganization and reduced overtime costs — would continue funding the proposed increase, which applies across the board to all police personnel.

"The state allocation basically helps us jump ahead of the efficiency moves. Those come over time, but this allowed us to move up when we could fund the raise," said Darryl Gissel, the city-parish's chief administrative officer. Approval from the council will bring starting base pay to about $36,000 after an officer has completed academy and spent six months on the job, then $42,000 after one year. 

State Sen. Bodi White, a Republican from Central, spearheaded efforts last year to get the $2 million allocated to BRPD, coordinating with the mayor to make sure the money would result in higher salaries. 

"The Baton Rouge Police Department has been through a lot the past few years. It's a tough job to do, and hard to raise a family starting out at such a low rate," he said. "The vast majority of their officers are good people, well-trained and professional."

News of the latest potential raise comes amid an unfolding scandal in the BRPD narcotics division. An ongoing corruption probe has resulted in the recent arrests of two detectives and transfers of four supervisors, effectively cutting the division in half. Officials have declined to say whether additional arrests and discipline are expected.

Aside from the recent drama, local leaders have long agreed that BRPD officers should make more money. The department faces issues recruiting and retaining officers, sometimes losing members to other agencies where salaries are better. Many Baton Rouge cops also rely on overtime and extra duty assignments to supplement low salaries.

The department recently commissioned an efficiency study, in part to find hidden savings that could support a substantial pay raise. Researchers identified several recommended changes to make the department more efficient, including reorganizing its leadership structure, eliminating some high ranking positions and reducing overtime assignments. Those changes could save about $10 million annually, according to the study.

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That would be just under half the estimated cost of bringing BRPD salaries in line with peer agencies, according to another study commissioned the year before whose authors found Baton Rouge cops are underpaid by about 30% on average.

The Metro Council will also consider setting a public hearing for its April 14 meeting to discuss appropriating another $2.4 million to replace 50 BRPD vehicles. Officials said that will save money in the long run because the aging fleet is driving up maintenance and repair costs.

BRPD leadership has already implemented some of the changes that were suggested to heighten efficiency, including adding a fourth deputy chief position to organize the department into four bureaus and placing either civilian employees or lower ranking officers in positions that, the consultants determined, do not require decades of experience or even law enforcement certification and training. One example is replacing a commissioned officer with a civilian employee overseeing building maintenance for BRPD facilities, officials said.

Some of those changes have met with disapproval from leadership of the BRPD union. 

Union leaders have long argued about the importance of giving officers a raise, but then they balked at the idea of adding more deputy chiefs, saying adding boots on the ground is more urgent than yet another administrative role. To get their message out to a broader audience, union leaders launched a billboard campaign last year. One current billboard sitting along Interstate 110 southbound warns drivers entering the city that BRPD officers are some of the lowest paid in the nation.

This latest opportunity for a 3% bump comes after Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome promised during her recent reelection campaign to make police pay a priority during her second term. When the Metro Council approved a similar measure in December, Broome called the change "an honorable step in the right direction" but committed to doing more.

Officials said Baton Rouge police officers could receive another raise before 2022, though the timeline remains uncertain. 

In addition to the BRPD raise, councilmembers will vote Wednesday on whether to offer similar pay increases to officers with the Baton Rouge City Constable's Office and the Baton Rouge Airport Police, two much smaller law enforcement agencies in the parish. Both would receive a 6% increase, funded through efficiency measures in the constable's office and through self-generated revenue at the airport.


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.