BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Swearing in to office, Baton Rouge's new police chief has a full plate with the continued unease in the community after the Alton Sterling shooting coupled with a record-breaking year for murders.
Chief Murphy Paul took the oath of office Monday, officially taking the lead of Baton Rouge Police Department. Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome announced his new title following a months-long application and interview process.
In an interview Tuesday, Paul reiterated once again that his main priority is reining in the homicides. In 2017, the parish broke a record with 104 murders. Paul said he is going to re-allocate resources to target key areas. However, doing so will be no small task in a department short roughly 60 officers. "It's just about prioritizing," he said. "Prioritizing and looking at areas we can move people around."
Last year, two zip codes in Baton Rouge drove the homicide count: the 70805 and the 70802. Those are also areas where community-police relations are particularly strained, with some believing the police are discriminating against them.
Paul said so far, arrests have been made in only 47 percent of the homicides last year. He said they need to rebuild trust so witnesses are willing to come forward and more crimes can be solved. "The facts tell us there are disproportionate numbers in those areas when it comes to contact, particularly with African American and males. And we do that number one by agreeing to the facts, and then sitting down at the table with community leaders and start working on solutions," he said.
Paul said they will also rely on technology to help fight crime, including investing in more cameras. He said they also plan to coordinate with businesses and homes, utilizing their surveillance cameras as well.
As part of his effort to improve trust, Paul said in the coming months he will review the department's use of force policies to make sure they are up to date with national standards. "Are we holding our police officers accountable? The complaints system. Is the complaints system designed in a way that encourages people to come forward?" he said.
He said he will also review other department policies, to ensure there is a level of "accountability." He said officers should understand they are "public servants" and should "never compromise professionalism."
Next week, Paul will be meeting with the Louisiana Attorney General's office to discuss the Sterling investigation from 2016. He said he would ideally like to get a sense of a timeline for when the decision will be announced. AG Jeff Landry could pursue state charges like manslaughter against either of the two officers involved in the shooting. He could also choose to clear them of any charges.
Paul said he has only seen the videos of the shooting available to the public, such as those that made the rounds on social media. He described them as "shocking."
BRPD is also conducting its own internal review of the shooting. Paul would not say whether the two officers should be allowed to stay on the force. They are currently on paid leave.
"I do understand that it is a hot topic, but I respect processes. I'm going to allow those processes to take its course," he said, indicating he did not want to jump to conclusions.