To dozens of East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputies, their bosses play favorites and staff shortages put them in danger. Many more, however, say they go to work each day determined to give their best effort.
More than half of the Sheriff's Office's 800 employees filled out an anonymous survey in April to share their thoughts and concerns about the law enforcement agency. The Advocate obtained the results this week through a public records request.
One in 3 of those responding said they did not believe senior management and employees trust each other, and 1 in 5 did not feel the office had a safe working environment.
In response to questions sent by email, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said the survey followed two trying years in which the city and parish, along with their law enforcement officers, had to deal with protests, deadly attacks and devastating flooding. After reviewing the survey results, he said, he and command staff responded by opening new lines of communication, creating new avenues for transparency, and increasing the workforce.
"We have to learn from one another and remain committed to improving and growing in order to best protect and serve our community," Gautreaux said.
The survey found discontent but also a sense of pride among deputies and civilian employees: 75 percent said they believe the office positively impacts people’s lives, 70 percent said the office operates in a socially responsible manner and 78 percent felt they had a good relationship with their supervisor.
The open-ended questions, nevertheless, prompted some alarming answers.
“Manpower shortage in Uniform Patrol has created several unsafe conditions,” one respondent wrote when asked what made the job unsafe. “I have often worked shifts with as few as four deputies in one of the two busiest substations which causes no backup on calls.”
Of the more than 100 respondents who said they felt unsafe on the job, at least half blamed the shortage of staff, either on the streets or at the Parish Prison.
“Advancement is still based on the ‘Good ole boy buddy system’ in my opinion," one respondent wrote. "Most promotions are already decided by intermediate level supervisors before the position is even offered/advertised."
Another wrote: "Morale has been so low and the trust broken over the past several years I’ve seen the backstabbing. It will take time and consistency in earning the trust back and to be able to recognize if it is sincere."
Sheriff's spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said while there were some disgruntled employees, those were not representative of the whole office. She acknowledged the office has been understaffed but said it has been able to slowly close the gap. Last July, the office was short about 50 deputies in Parish Prison and about 40 detectives and uniform patrol, but this month they are short about 13 in Parish Prison and about 20 detectives and uniform patrol, Hicks said.
Hicks also noted that even before the survey results came back, the sheriff began a Team Representative Program, where someone from each shift met with him, aimed at increasing dialogue. She said that process has already helped to address concerns, take input from staff, answer questions and dispel rumors that may have exacerbated low deputy morale.
"We’ve sought to have two-way, proactive dialogue with the community in which we serve and we want to have the same two-way dialogue with those in our agency," Hicks said. "It allowed us to get a pulse for the office, identify potential issues or concerns, hear unique solutions and ideas as well as identify and hopefully address misconceptions."
Many of the comments in survey — in response to a wide variety of questions, whether about training, relationships with supervisors, or communication — called for an end to favoritism in promotions and educational opportunities.
"The opportunities for advancement should be fair across the board," one respondent wrote. "There are many qualified (educated) employees who are overlooked due to nepotism and favoritism within the organization.”
Hicks said since the survey, Gautreaux has also established a hiring and promotion board that includes deputies to assist in those decisions. The board, she said, should increase transparency.
Another large area of discontent involved pay, with 44 percent of the respondents unsatisfied with their overall compensation and almost 40 percent who did not feel they were compensated fairly relative to others in their profession. Hicks said deputies for the first time in two years will receive an across-the-board raise of $1,400, a goal the sheriff tries to maintain when the budget allows, she said.
Gautreaux said his team decided to conduct the survey for the first time as a way to support and listen to deputies. He said his command staff found this particularly important after the July 2016 ambush on law enforcement that killed and injured deputies, the August 2016 flood that devastated the community and then after a rape suspect killed Lt. Shawn Anderson in March 2017.
“In the face of such adversity I felt it was important that we do all we can within our agency to offer our deputies the support and gratitude they deserve,” Gautreaux said in his written response to questions from The Advocate. “I feel that having employees that feel supported and appreciated will lead to the best service we can provide to the community.”