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Washington, DC's Myesha K. Braden, far left, Criminal Justice Project Director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, addresses participants at the conclusion of the fourth and final session of the Dialogue on Race and Policing in Baton Rouge, Friday, July 20, 2018 at the LSU Law Center. Law enforcement, academics, clergy, community activists and students have been working together to develop action plans for programs and policies that promote police-community trust and accountability, and enhance public safety.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul and Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome plan to form a citizen council to advise and support the police chief in another effort to improve community-police relations and boost law enforcement transparency. 

The idea flows from a summer dialogue series on race and policing, where community members and leaders — including local law enforcement — discussed how racism has continued to influence law enforcement efforts and policy. 

"(The council) would certainly be a part of keeping the chief abreast of situations in the community, give their viewpoints on prevalent issues that are taking place around law enforcement and the community and also give recommendations on police and community relations," Broome said. She met last week with a group of dialogue participants, including Paul, and said she is excited to adopt their recommendations. 

However, the details for the chief's advisory council — like who it will include and how it will operate —  have not yet been clearly set. But both Paul and Broome said they are committed to its formation and appreciate that community members will drive its work.

"I envision the council will not just be to solicit input on community concerns when it relates to policing, but also to inform them of things going on in the police department," Paul said. He said he also wants the council members to receive some kind of training to understand the work of officers. 

Broome said she plans to have the chief's council grow from the committee she created last December to assist in the selection process for the new police chief, leading to the appointment of Paul. That committee included some elected leaders, like state Rep. Ted James and Metro Council members Tara Wicker and LaMont Cole, but also community leaders like educator and Together Baton Rouge member Jennifer Carwile, local business owner Jan Bernard and pastors Errol Domingue and Tommie Gipson. Broome said she does not plan to have any of the elected officials on the council, and then hopes to have an appointment process to expand the council. 

"A chief’s council is just that: they offer counsel, they offer advice, they offer recommendations," Broome said. "Their only agenda, as I saw it, was to improve relations between the police and citizens. They recognize the challenges the police officers have as well as the citizens."

And while Wicker is on board with such a mission, she is concerned about how that almost directly overlaps with a body already in place: the police community ambassador's program. Wicker and Councilman Trae Welch founded the ambassador program after more than two years of collaboration from community input and conversations. 

"There are some concerns, and rightly so," Wicker said. "One thing we don’t want to do is duplicate efforts. ... It would do us good to work all together to improve, opposed to creating things on top of each other. At the end of the day I think it confuses the community."

She said since they began working on the ambassador program, they have had the support from the two most recent mayoral administrations, under former Mayor-President Kip Holden and Broome, as well as Paul and former Police Chief Carl Dabadie. The group officially graduated its first 20 members into the program in February, representing all areas of the city to better merge the police and community. 

"I have no idea what the intentions or mission of the group are, but if it's in line with what the community police ambassador program is trying to accomplish, it would seem that system is already in place," Wicker said. "Why not work within the system?"

But she said, they are open to teamwork and collaboration if it turns out to be appropriate.

Neither Paul or Broome would say say exactly how the two entities would operate together, because the details of the chief's council remain uncertain. Both said they hope they would work in conjunction. 

"The Police Community Ambassador Program will be represented on the chief’s council alongside other community organizations and community leaders," Broome said. 

Paul also noted that he hopes the chief's council will be a body that can help his department's employees receive a pay raise they have been pursuing for years. 

"Once they see what we do every day and the great work of the men and women of the Baton Rouge Police Department, … (they can) help support us to pay that we need," Paul said. 

The summer dialogue group, led by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, a national nonprofit working to secure equal justice, and Dialogue on Race Louisiana, a local nonprofit working to eradicate racism, also recommended two other initiatives that they believe will help improve police community relations. They hope to create a procedural justice policy to standardize operations like commands and officer presence, aimed at increasing police legitimacy as well as better coordination among police officers and social services. Broome and Paul said they are also open to those concepts, and will continue working on their development, but called the chief's council their first priority. 

"I appreciated the specific recommendations that they had and the justification for the recommendations," Broome said. "I was grateful to have a group like this, so diverse and so committed to … closing the gap between law enforcement and the community."


Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.