Police promotions: seniority or merit-based?

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - House Bill 1137 looks to change the way police officers across the state are promoted. Locally, it affects more than 600 officers at the Baton Rouge Police Department.

Currently, at city police, it's a civil service-based system.

"If you do a good job and you pass the test, it's a competitive exam, and you're a senior officer, you're going to get promoted," said Baton Rouge Police Union President Chris Stewart.

Cpl. Stewart said the bill looks to change that by promoting cops based on merit. That would include officers taking an exam. The chief would take the top five scores and promote who he thinks suitable.

Baton Rouge Firefighter Union President Curt Monte said an attack on the civil service as a whole impacts not only police, but firefighters as well.

"Do you want someone responding to your home that made a 100 on a test or do you want someone with 20 years of life and death decision-making experience, and that's what this bill does," said Monte.

Representative John Schroder filed the bill at the request of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police.  Schroder told 9 News he met with a handful of chiefs in support of the idea, including Lake Charles, Kenner and our very own Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White.

Chief White told 9 News he does not oppose the bill. White said the merit system puts the best and brightest in leadership positions.

But the man who appointed the chief, Mayor-President Kip Holden told us, "We are not going to a merit-based system." Both refused to go on camera.

Instead, Councilman Joel Boe plans to introduce a resolution at the Metro Council meeting Wednesday in support of the bill.

"Wrong people are being promoted into the wrong positions, and the good people, the cream of the crop, I think we're losing some of them," said Boe.

Those opposing the bill said it aims at officer morale, which could impact public safety.

"The better total atmosphere they have to work in, I think that's just a residual for all the stakeholders involved," said Cpl. Stewart.

"Instead of it being a career and people retiring with 30 years of experience, it'll be a job," said Monte.

Representative Schroder said before he presents the bill, he wants to meet with the union and other parties.

Meanwhile, Mayor Holden said he plans to have a closed door meeting with all vested agencies and not air out any differences in public.

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