Re: Criminal Justice Reform

It is important that a law enforcement agency be accountable to the citizens it is charged with protecting. In order for an agency to be accountable, its leader must be accountable to the public. This establishes the social compact necessary for a healthy relationship. The community must accept the authority of the leader, and to accept that authority, they must have the ability to reject that authority—to compel a change in leadership if their faith in an authority is lost.

In most cities in East Baton Rouge Parish, this mutual respect—the social compact—is established by allowing citizens to elect the police chief. In the cities of Zachary, Central, and Baker, the police chiefs are elected. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff is elected by voters parish-wide.

 

In contrast, the Baton Rouge Police Department police chief is appointed. If he (or she) were appointed by a governing body composed of members elected only by city residents, then city residents could still to some degree hold him accountable. Unfortunately, since the early ‘80s, the police chief has been appointed by the Metro Council, which is composed of members elected parish-wide not just city-wide. This is one of the fundamental problems created by the changes made in the ‘80s to the Plan of Government.

 

Prior to 1982, the city-parish government was governed by two separate but overlapping councils: a city council and a parish council. The city council was elected by city residents. The parish council consisted of the city council members and additional members elected by voters in the unincorporated area. And the police chief in Baton Rouge was appointed by the city council. The decision was made by representatives elected only by city residents.

 

But in the early ‘80s, the city council of Baton Rouge was merged with the parish council of East Baton Rouge Parish (notably around the same time that the Baton Rouge Police Department was placed under a federal consent decree). This shift in governance eroded the city residents’ ability to hold their police chief accountable. No longer was he appointed by a city council which solely represented city residents. Instead, the police chief was appointed by the Metro Council, whose composition over the years increasingly gave more weight to voters outside the city limits. And since the Metro Council also controlled the Police Department’s budget, city residents were no longer able to exercise appropriate influence on the governance of the BRPD.

 

In order for city residents to hold the leader of their law enforcement agency accountable—for the social compact to be restored, this oversight must be re-established. The BRPD Police Chief must be either elected by city residents, or at the very least, appointed by only those members of the Metro Council who represent city residents. And the budget of the BRPD must also be administered only by those Metro Council members who represent Baton Rouge city residents or by the police chief. (Currently the majority of the BRPD budget is funded through the General Fund, which is subject to the approval of the entire Metro Council. In order to restore the social compact, the BRPD should primarily be funded by a city tax approved and paid by voters who live within Baton Rouge city limits. And the decision to place that tax on a ballot should not rest with the entire Metro Council. It should rest with only those Metro Council members who represent Baton Rouge city residents or possibly with the duly elected police chief.)

 

Any effort to merge the Baton Rouge Police Department with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office should be vehemently opposed. Residents in the City of Baton Rouge deserve the same right as residents in the other municipalities in East Baton Rouge Parish to have their own dedicated law enforcement agency. Merging the BRPD with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office deprives them of this right and subjects them to the authority of a law enforcement agency over which they cannot exercise sufficient oversight. It erodes the social compact essential to a healthy relationship. It undermines Baton Rouge city residents’ right to self-governance.

 

And further complicating the proposal to merge these law enforcement agencies is the issue of the proposed City of St. George, whose leaders declared their intention of relying solely on the EBRSO for its own police force. Expecting Baton Rouge City residents to underwrite the cost for the proposed city’s police protection is yet another example of how incorporating the City of St. George would cause the City of Baton Rouge economic harm.

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