You can tell a lot about a person based on what they prioritize. The same is true for a city. Baton Rouge politicians have for years claimed to prioritize public safety and yet our state's capital is one of the most dangerous places in America.
Last year, Baton Rouge murders rose 70 percent giving it a homicide rate higher than Chicago's. A large portion of the murders happened in North Baton Rouge in the 70805 and 70802 ZIP codes. Of those homicides, close to half went unsolved. We just simply don't have enough cops in North Baton Rouge.
Hiring police and paying them well has not a been a priority for Baton Rouge politicians through the years. Murder victims in North Baton Rouge have paid a heavy price for that.
The city ordered a study this past spring to determine whether BRPD paid enough. Did we really need a study to tell us that?
BRPD annual salaries start at a paltry $33,968, but that's only after an officer has completed the training academy and is six months into the job. That's $12,000 below the median salary in Louisiana and a full $23,000 below the national median salary. This is for a job where you are asked every day to put your life on the line. It's ridiculous.
Compare BRPD to Louisiana State Police where new recruits earn $49,448 a year after they complete field officer training. Entry-level New Orleans police officers make $46,900 a year. Why is the salary so much lower in Baton Rouge? Are the criminals less dangerous there? I think not. City leaders should have raised pay long ago.
The Metro Council voted in April to pay SSA Consultants $39,000 — more than a city officer's starting pay — to look at BRPD salaries and how they match up with the rest of the nation. More than six months later, the study is still not complete even though originally SSA Consultants promised it would only take three months. The firm says Baton Rouge Police Chief Paul Murphy asked for a more detailed report than originally requested.
Preliminary numbers from the study show that city officers are underpaid by 30 percent to 40 percent compared to peer law enforcement agencies. The vice president of the Baton Rouge Union of Police, Cpl. Brandon Blust, said he was pleased to hear preliminary numbers from the study show BRPD officers are underpaid.
"We look forward to working with the chief and the city-parish government in rectifying how low our officers are paid in the capital city and the second-largest city in the state," said Blust.
Blust also said he's concerned about the continued extensions and additions to the study, which are only further delaying long-needed negotiations for the union contract, which is more than 10 years old. In July, officials on both sides agreed to wait for the end of the study to renegotiate the contract, which outlines officers' wages, hours and employment guidelines.
"We have officers right now that are grossly underpaid and to push things back constantly because of other factors that keep popping up is not going to help with officer retention and our ability to hire qualified individuals," Blust said.
Government has a habit of studying the obvious. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average starting salary of a police officer nationally is $44,897 — that's $1,000 more per month than BRPD is paying. Enough with the studies.
This not just about the cop on the beat. Regardless of what some believe, police play a major role in keeping neighborhoods safe. They are not the bad guys. You would think in a city as dangerous and violent as Baton Rouge, hiring and paying well good cops would be a priority.
Last year Baton Rouge set a record for murders, saw more than 1,200 aggravated assaults, had 79 cases of rape, 3,200 burglaries, 8,500 cases of theft of personal property, and had close to one thousand cars stolen. It's time for city leaders to prioritize public safety.
Email Dan Fagan at email@example.com. Twitter: @DanFaganShow.