BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Before the debate about House Bill 725 came to a halt in the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial, and Cultural Affairs Friday morning, Representative Ted James described it as simple. "It takes the positions of chief of police and deputy chiefs of police out of civil service," James explained.
If the bill had passed, the City of Baton Rouge's top cop would be supervised, appointed, and dismissed by the mayor, getting rid of the civil service protection over the police chief. Right now, if the mayor makes a change, the civil service board can overturn that decision.
James, who authored the proposed bill, says the rules in place now are in direct conflict with mayoral duties and it's time to put the power back in the hands of the people, not the union, "Aside from the reasons, politics, and issues of yesterday, I'll tell you that this difference in local policy and state law has caused heartburn in our city," James said.
Some community members support the change. "When a city has problems with crime, people look to the mayor, so it's very important that the mayor has a police chief that works with her or his agenda," explained a member of Together Baton Rouge. "We are small to medium size city with big city problems."
Mya Richards, a 19-year-old student at Southern University, also urged committee members to consider the bill. "Systems and laws are moving with the times, right? If we don't create instruments and measures that make us more competitive than other cities, we'll only regress," she said.
Those opposed, including a member of the BRPD Union Board, say making the position the responsibility of the mayor politicizes the job. "Without civil service people like me, females in law enforcement, minorities we wouldn't have the protection that civil service gives me," she explained.
John Delgado says the proposed bill, "Inherently creates a political cabal at the top of the department that is answering solely to the discretion of the mayor. It makes them beholden to the mayor. It doesn't allow for the independence that's needed for police chiefs and deputy chiefs to do their jobs."
Despite winning over a few committee members, James voluntarily deferred the House Bill 725 until next year. "Today underscores why I wanted to do the bill. Because of the strength of our union, they don't want to see any changes. They have run the department for many, many years and this takes them a step away from being able to dictate everything in the department."
James also noted this is not a new concept for the state. He says neighboring cities like Houma and Covington allow their mayor to appoint or fire the police chief.