The Baton Rouge Union of Police has put up two new billboards bemoaning the city's crime rate, but provided little context to indicate what union leadership hopes to accomplish with the messages.
"WARNING: Enter at your own risk," the billboards say.
One displays the number of homicides that occurred in Baton Rouge during the first six months of 2020 along with a quote from Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul expressing concern about the murder rate. The quote was pulled from a recent Advocate article detailing a recent spike in homicides across the parish. Experts and officials have attributed that spike to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which upended normal life and left many people unemployed heading into the summer months, when violence often peaks.
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The second billboard calls Baton Rouge the fifth-deadliest American city, citing a Fox News report based on 2018 crime statistics.
Police union President Brandon Blust declined a request for comment from The Advocate about the messaging, which the mayor said serves to "disparage our community" and discourage people from visiting.
The mayor's office issued a statement Thursday blasting the billboards and expressing disappointment that "the police union is choosing to throw stones."
The union "clearly is not serious about making Baton Rouge a better place to live," Mayor Sharon Weston Broome said. "If they were, they could have donated the money spent on these billboards to anti-violence programs in Baton Rouge."
This is not the first time Broome has sparred with union leadership. Those disagreements have become more public since, several weeks ago, the mayor went on a local radio show and denounced the union for being an obstructive force in her efforts to weed out "bad cops" in Baton Rouge.
Broome is running for reelection this fall and her campaign has focused in part on continued police reform, especially since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis prompted a nationwide conversation about race and policing. Broome campaigned on a similar platform in 2016, when the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling outside a Baton Rouge convenience store forced local leaders to confront some of the same questions.
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After taking office, Broome pressured Carl Dabadie to step down as chief, which he ultimately did. She later replaced him with current Police Chief Murphy Paul, who has himself butted heads with the union on numerous occasions both public and private — including when he fired Blane Salamoni, the officer responsible for Sterling's death. Paul also later apologized to communities of color in Baton Rouge for the department's past policing practices.
It's not clear if union leadership meant for the billboards to cast blame on Broome or Paul for failing to bring down the city's homicide rate. It is a different message than one the group has pursued publicly in the past, focusing on the longstanding need for an officer pay raise, which has grown more dire in recent years.
A recent pay study found Baton Rouge police officers make about 30 percent less on average than their colleagues at comparable agencies.
The union's last billboard campaign addressed that disparity, questioning "How much more must we give till we get fair pay." Those signs appeared several weeks after a domestic violence suspect opened fire on Baton Rouge police officers, killing Lt. Glenn Hutto and seriously wounding his colleague.
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