BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It was a light turnout for the first of two public meetings held by Baton Rouge city leaders and the Department of Justice to discuss policing policy and reform. The Community Conversations is meant to give residents a chance to weigh in with their comments, suggestions, or concerns on policing.
Mayor-President Kip Holden addressed the half-filled room at the River Center briefly before the meeting began, urging dialogue and cooperation.
"Regardless of what you believe, you can't have a position that draws a line in the sand. We must continue to talk to each other," said Holden.
The Department of Justice was tasked with recording and summarizing resident comments and suggestions. The topics that were addressed include community policing, police accountability, and recruitment and training.
The Baton Rouge Police Department also gave a brief presentation explain the Civil Service Rules the department must follow in disciplining and investigating officers.
Residents were given a chance to comment on each topic. The hope is to take those comments to city officials, who will, in turn, use them to build action plans and policies moving forward.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker said there is no timeline on when this "community policy plan" will be compiled, but she believes it could be by the end of the year.
The East Baton Rouge Metro Council has debated several policing reform proposals over recent months, but nothing has been passed. Council members most recently delayed a vote in order to allow for these community meetings and comments.
The comments from residents were often frank and passionate and showed a wide range of views. For example, a woman living in the Spanish Town neighborhood talked about her neighbors starting their own community policing program two decades ago.
"Community policing starts with community. The community has to engage with the policemen on the beat. It doesn't go the other way," said resident Mary Jane Marcantel.
However, another resident and activist Arthur "Silky Slim" Reed was quick to respond by saying interactions with police are not always the same.
"When the police go to your community, they don't treat you like they do in our community. That is the truth," Reed said. "To get respect, you have to give it."
The topics were discussed over two hours While concerns may not have been directly answered, Wicker said they will help guide a long-term solution.
"It won't be normal as it was before, but we have a very unique opportunity to build upon a foundation that was so rocked during the summer," Wicker said.
The next meeting will be Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Raising Cane's River Center Exhibition Hall, meeting room 9. Attendees should enter through the St. Louis Street entrance.
The meeting is free and open to the public, but participants are encouraged to register online. For more information, call (225) 389-3100.