Amid recent spikes in violence across Baton Rouge, community leaders and residents pledged their support Tuesday evening for a community police ambassador program aimed at reducing tensions between officers and the people they serve.
The program — over a year in the making — could launch by January, organizers said.
At a recruitment meeting Tuesday inside the Scotlandville Branch Library, city resident Richard Stenley said he plans to apply for the ambassador role, which he considers part of a larger effort to improve the city. The Scotlandville native moved back to Baton Rouge five years ago, noting the area “just isn’t what it used to be — a beautiful college town with businesses up and down the street.”
“You saw what happened last night,” he said, referring to multiple shootings across the city Monday night that left two people dead. “There’s more crime now. … We need more of a community vibe.”
More than a dozen people attended the meeting, hosted by Metro Council member 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.
East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council members along with participants from the police policy…
The ambassador program arose from those committee meetings and has recently moved closer to fruition. Ambassador applications opened last week, and the recruitment meeting Tuesday was the second of its kind. Similar meetings are planned through next month.
Baton Rouge Police — from both former Chief Carl Dabadie and current interim Chief Jonny Dunnam — have pledged support of the program. Dabadie and Dunnam were involved in discussions throughout the spring and summer, and Dunnam has offered to help train the ambassadors.
Organizers hope for two volunteer ambassadors from each of the five police districts within city limits who will work as liaisons between residents and the police, serving for two years. Wicker said they’ll pull names out of a hat to select among qualified candidates and then post a list of the remaining candidates who could serve as alternates.
Applications are open both online and on paper and will be accepted at least through the end of October. Wicker said she had already received about 20 applications by Tuesday.
Though the current plan includes a total of 10 ambassadors, Wicker said organizers could modify their plans to accommodate a slightly larger group if applications continue coming in. She also said they could expand the program beyond city limits in the future.
No applicants will be rejected unless they fail to meet a series of requirements, including living within city limits, being 18 or older, and demonstrating through the application their involvement and interest in their community. They will also have to complete the required training, the exact contents of which remain unclear but will include information on law enforcement and the legal process, the committee previously decided.
Wicker said having strong ties to their communities is key for ambassadors.
“We want people to respect and trust their voices,” she said. “This group is going to be diverse on purpose … have a cross section of the community on purpose.”
Seeing the program coming to life after countless hours of planning is “just indescribable,” Wicker said. “When you put so much work into something — especially this delicate of an issue — you never know how it will turn out. … But this process has shown that despite everything, people in Baton Rouge care. We care about our community and we care about each other.”
She said recent spikes in violence have brought even more voices to the table.
“People are looking for answers on … this sudden rash of murders in our community,” she said. “I think this has taken everybody off guard, but I’m noticing that people are saying the same thing: We need to come together to solve this issue.”
Additional recruitment meetings are scheduled at 6 p.m. on the following Tuesdays: at the Jones Creek Branch Library on Oct. 3, Bluebonnet Branch Library on Oct. 10, and Eden Park Branch Library on Oct. 24. Two other meetings will be scheduled at Broadmoor Baptist Church and St. Aloysius Catholic Church Parish Hall, with time and dates pending.