BR.billboards.adv HS 002.JPG

A billboard put up by the Baton Rouge Union of Police can be seen on College Drive near Interstate 10, July 16, 2020, in Baton Rouge.

It’s a big deal when the president of a police union accuses a mayor of snubbing cops, giving them the cold shoulder and silent treatment. Police are used to poor treatment and being disrespected on the streets, but you would expect more from an elected official.

In a letter sent to rank-and-file cops last week, Sgt. Brandon Blust, Baton Rouge Police Union president, criticized Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s treatment of officers.

“I have personally worked multiple events that she (Broome) has attended but has refused to be a part of conversations with officers,” Blust wrote. “Many times, she has snubbed her nose at officers working the events, ignored personal greetings from officers, (including myself), as well as openly criticized officers prior to investigations being completed.”

The tension between Blust and Broome may help explain the union putting up a couple of billboards along Interstate 10 warning visitors about the city’s crime rate: “Warning, enter at your own risk. As of July 12, 2020, 46 homicides in 7 months.”

The billboard also includes a quote from Police Chief Murphy Paul, “I’m worried.” Another billboard describes Baton Rouge as the fifth-deadliest American city.

The mayor-president accused the union of not being serious “about making Baton Rouge a better place to live.” Broome said the money the union spent on billboards could have instead gone to anti-violence programs.

The billboards don’t reflect well on Broome’s leadership. She’s up for reelection Nov. 3. Broome, a Democrat, defeated Republican candidate Bodi White by fewer than 4 percentage points when elected in 2016.

If Broome is perceived as anti-cop while the city she runs becomes more deadly and violent, it won’t help her with voters. Or will it? There’s a real anti-police vibe surfacing with many after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, killing him. Protesters and some hard-left politicians have begun to call for a defunding of police.

Four separate polls conducted recently asking respondents about the defund police movement showed an average of 31% favor it while 58% oppose the idea. But African Americans favored defunding police, 45% to 28% opposed.

Only 23% of Whites liked the idea while 61% opposed. Democrats favored the defund the police movement 50% to 34% opposed. Only 11% of Republicans would like to defund police while 84% opposed the idea.

This may explain the close results of the recent property tax vote for the sheriff’s office in East Baton Rouge Parish. The property tax, which comes up for a vote every ten years, helps fund the sheriff’s operating budget. It passed but only by a margin of 53% to 47%. Ten years prior, voters approved the same tax by a margin of 84% to 16%.

The “no” votes were concentrated in the heart of the city of Baton Rouge while the “yes” votes spread along a line extending from St. George to Central, largely in the suburbs, according to a map of precincts.

A couple of left-leaning groups campaigned against the tax. If the tax would have failed it would have meant a defunding of 17% of the sheriff’s operating budget.

“For me, the 53-47 vote was amazing,” said the Rev. Alexis Anderson, a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition.

Is the defund-police movement gaining traction in Louisiana?

“In a lot of respects, it’s kind of a reflection of mainstream politics catching up with social movements,” Bryan McCann, an associate professor at LSU who researches crime and public culture, told this newspaper

McCann says 10 years ago, the defund police movement conversation was a nonstarter.

“Not only are we having this very large and intense reckoning presently in the midst of George Floyd’s death, but also we’re still, in Baton Rouge, living with the legacy of Alton Sterling,” McCann said. Sterling’s shooting by police precipitated protests in Baton Rouge in the summer of 2016.

As Baton Rouge continues to experience a considerable increase in homicides, the idea of defunding police seems like pure insanity. Ideally, you would also think having a tough law-and-order mayor-president would be important, not someone perceived as anti-cop.

We need to support police now more than ever. As blood continues to spill on the streets of Baton Rouge, police should be better funded, not defunded.

Email Dan Fagan at Faganshow@gmail.com.

Our Views: Chief Paul’s experience can guide police reform in Baton Rouge