Organizations show support for BRPD amid controversy over Police Union billboards

Organizations show support for BRPD amid controversy over Police Union billboards
The billboard was paid for by the Baton Rouge Police Union. (Source: Brandon Shackelford)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Recent billboards funded by the Baton Rouge Police Union have prompted letters of support for Chief Murphy Paul and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome from various organizations.

The billboards in question cite statistics that refer to Baton Rouge as the 5th deadliest city in the nation.

“As a collective, we’re saddened and disappointed that the Baton Rouge Union of police has chosen such an unprofessional manner to present the ills and troubles of our community,” states a release issued by The Butterfly Society, an organization devoted to the victims of domestic violence. “If the Baton Rouge Union of Police truly wanted to help make Baton Rouge a better place to live, they would’ve invested and partnered in anti-violence interventions. Instead, Baton Rouge Union of Police invested in billboards that only further add misguided stigma to our City, while not considering how such an insipid display affects local business owners and hardworking community members.”

“The consistently divisive and combative actions of the Baton Rouge Police Union show that it does not have the interest of our city at heart,” states Prophetic Voices, a Baton Rouge-based organization comprised of members of the clergy. “It is only interested in embarrassing our Mayor-President and our Police Chief.”

The first round of billboards addressed the need for pay raises for police officers. This prompted a response from the Mayor’s Office and the Baton Rouge Police Department.

“The city-parish was in the process of identifying funding for a police pay raise when the coronavirus pandemic began,” said Chief Operating Officer for the City-Parish of East Baton Rouge Darryl Gissel. “In December 2019, we received the results of an organizational and operational assessment of the Baton Rouge Police Department’s $93.5 million operating budget, conducted by Management Partners. In March 2020, the city-parish negotiations with Baton Rouge Police Union for a new police contract were substantially complete. Police pay was the final aspect of the negotiations, and the city-parish was committed to utilizing the savings identified in the organizational and operational assessment towards funding a police pay raise. The savings require structural changes in the police department, implemented over time, which would require support from the police union.

“The city-parish estimates a $23 million shortfall for the 2020 General Fund Budget due to the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Simply put, municipal budgets were not designed to handle a pandemic.”

The issue escalated with two additional billboards that went up within the last week.

“WARNING: Enter at your own risk,” one billboards says. It also displays the number of homicides that happened in the city during the first six months of 2020, along with a quote from Chief Paul saying, “I’m worried.”

“I am focused on addressing root causes of violence, specifically by empowering and investing in our disinvested communities,” Mayor Broome said in a statement. “I call on the police union to stop the divisive advertising actions and unite with me and the members of the BRPD around this shared goal, rather than attempting to divide our community.”

The following day, Baton Rouge Union of Police President Sgt. Brandon Blust said in a press release, “I am saddened for every police officer in Baton Rouge and every citizen. Saddened by the Mayor’s response to public information billboards that were recently erected. Billboards that were put up to inform the citizens of this city of a very true and very serious situation. A growing situation that can only be slowed by working together with a well-informed city.”

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives released a statement Tuesday that provided statistics supporting the progress being made in the city.

“Under Chief Paul’s leadership, the City of Baton Rouge has seen a reduction in the overall crime rate, a reduction in the number of actual persons arrested and he has implemented programs that improve community-police relations.”

“The Baton Rouge Police Department accomplished the following under his leadership:

  • Homicides dropped 10% from 2017 to 2018 and fell another 12% from 2018 to 2019.
  • Violent crime dropped 11% from 2017 to 2019
  • Robberies dropped 16% from 2017 to 2018 and fell another 11% from 2018 to 2019.
  • Burglaries and property crime dropped 17% from 2017 to 2018, and fell another 16% from 2018 to 2019.

These statistics were outlined in the statement released by Mayor Broome’s Office on Thursday, July 16.

“Louisiana is among the poorest states in the country with among the highest rate of incarcerations,” Mayor Broome’s statement concluded. “Bottom line we are not going to arrest our way out of our challenges. We must invest further in social services.”

Mayor Broome is up for reelection in November 2020. The Chief of the Baton Rouge Police Department is an appointed position by the Mayor’s Office. Mayor Broome appointed Chief Paul to the office in August 2017.

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