BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Did protests calling for reform and defunding the police held this summer actually put more money in the pockets of officers?
WAFB filed a public records request with the Baton Rouge Police Department and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office to see just how much money was spent on overtime for officers and deputies who were at the protests following the death of George Floyd.
The numbers are pretty staggering...
WAFB discovered that law enforcement officials in East Baton Rouge Parish spent close to $900,000 of taxpayer money to make sure the protests in the Red Stick remained peaceful and people could exercise their First Amendment rights. But where exactly does that money come from? And were the people who participated in the protests surprised by the amount of overtime pay?
“We really wanted the community’s concerns to be voiced. That was our main focus,” said Keondra Carter with the organization, BR For The People.
Several groups teamed up and marched together following Floyd’s death.
“There’s a scar on Baton Rouge due to Alton Sterling’s killing. There’s been several killings of unarmed people by police since Alton Sterling’s killing that don’t get mentioned as much, so we wanted to have a protest to show that this isn’t just about George Floyd, this isn’t just about Minneapolis, this is about something that’s been going on,” said Carter.
The response to the protests not only from BRPD, but EBRSO as well, cost taxpayers money.
“We always have to have a contingency when it comes to these types of events. It is part of our budget, and we try to manage our finances based on that budget,” said BRPD Deputy Chief of Administrations Myron Daniels.
WAFB filed a public records request and looked over the overtime logs for BRPD during the month of June.
Most employee names on the list appear twice, representing two pay periods during the month from when the employees at BRPD received overtime during the protests.
“So practically every officer and administrator with BRPD got some sort of overtime in the month of June?” questioned WAFB’s Lester Duhé.
“It was quite a few. I can’t say it was every, but it was more than normal, definitely,” said Daniels.
In fact, the average overtime rate for BRPD is about 1.5% of their normal salary. The general average is close to $42 per hour for officers.
The total amount of overtime money (benefits included) issued to members of BRPD from June 2 through June 29 was $655,469.
“Well, like I said, if you’re not familiar with the budget, it could seem shocking, but when you put it into perspective, for example, we have several major parades here throughout the seasons, and some of those parades, particularly the larger ones, we may spend $50,000 on average just for that day for a parade, so looking at our numbers, we spent about $17,000 a day to prepare for the protests, or the demonstrations, or the rallies that were had. And when you put it into perspective, it’s not as glaring as a number from that standpoint,” said the deputy chief.
The records even show some officers got more than $3,000 or $4,000 in overtime pay in a single pay period.
The women associated with BR for the People say they’re not shocked by the numbers of overtime given to BRPD officers.
“When we had small numbers, there was a large police presence. When we had large numbers, we had a large police presence, so it’s a matter of they invested in fueling helicopters, armored trucks. It’s not shocking at all to hear those numbers because an excessive amount of force is obviously funded by an excessive amount of money,” said Carter.
WAFB also filed a public records request with EBRSO for its overtime logs. For about two weeks in June, 263 deputies claimed 5,270 overtime hours for working the protests.
That cost EBRSO $210,248.85. The department’s average pay for overtime is around $40 per hour.
“I feel as if the numbers were that high because they had helicopters deployed circling the area, they had armored trucks, and they had an extreme number of officers there. The fact that they used that amount of force and aggression for protesters that were peaceful. None of the officers were injured, none of the officers experienced any aggression from us, so it’s very disheartening to see that they expected that out of our people, out of our community, and met us with such force,” said Carter.
“The first part was recognizing the fact that we had citizens who wanted to exercise their constitutional rights to protest, and we wanted to make sure they had a safe platform to be able to provide security for those who wanted to move towards that action,” said Daniels.
BRPD’s budget is about $93 million dollars per year.
Daniels says the demonstrations are something they prepare for like a storm, but does he believe it was an excessive number of police officers patrolling the protests?
“That’s somewhat subjective. Again, our ultimate goal was to ensure that those who decided to exercise their constitutional right were well protected and I think we met that goal,” said Daniels.
With some folks across the country and the protesters in Baton Rouge calling to “defund the police,” were those protesters essentially funding the same institutions they believe should be defunded?
“Well, I won’t say they were funding the police. Again, that money is already budgeted prior to, but again, we support constitutional rights, and we’re going to do everything in our power to ensure our citizens are safely protected during those times and events. Not in my eyes. It’s kind of hard to put a price on safety. And with that, I think in layman’s terms, it was money well spent,” said Daniels.
“You’re bringing out helicopters, you’re bringing out armored trucks, that’s an excessive use of funding. So yes, the police department could be defunded, because this is all done excessively. If we needed a military presence, the National Guard should have been called. That is not their job. Our police departments do not have to be militaristic. Our police department’s job is to serve our community,” said Carter.
BR for the People officials say the amount of officers present was never about safety.
“But the amount of officers that were brought out there was not to ensure public safety. It was to send a message. It was to send a message that the police run things around here,” said Carter.
However, there were some altercations between protesters and members of law enforcement during the protests near Siegen Lane.
“Again, from our assessment of it, we have to prepare and be prepared. And there are a lot of other things that people may not see, whether it’s the traffic side of it, being able to keep traffic off of those who may be protesting in the area. Also, we still have our everyday duties responding to calls around the city, so again, these are unusual occurrences and we have to be prepared for them,” said Daniels.
Daniels says it was hard for law enforcement to respond to some of the protests because of how quickly they developed and spread on social media, but ultimately, keeping the people of Baton Rouge safe was always their top priority. They say in the future, they’d like for people planning a demonstration to file for a permit with the city and the police department ahead of time so they can adequately prepare.
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