Our Views: White firing needs scrutiny

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden owes his constituents a clear explanation about why he fired Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White.

Jill Craft, White’s attorney, said he was fired because of political pressure from the union representing city police. The union has been a political supporter of Holden, and White has been at odds with the union. Craft alleged that tensions between White and the union mounted after White transferred Chris Stewart, the union president, “from a position with essentially nonexistent duties to a position that required work.” White had also drawn the union’s ire after implementing other personnel changes. White had said shortly after he was sworn in that the department was top-heavy, and that he planned on moving some high-ranking officers from desk jobs to supervisory roles in the field. In a written statement after White’s firing, Stewart expressed support for Holden and said that the statements made by Craft concerning him and the union were false.

Craft said that Holden eventually ordered White not to make any personnel decisions or discipline officers without approval from the mayor’s office. She said White was ordered not to put such requests in writing because they would become a public record.

Those are serious allegations that deserve a detailed response from Holden. We don’t know if White made the right calls in his management decisions, but we’d hope that any police chief would have the latitude to make those decisions without being micromanaged by the mayor’s office. Baton Rouge’s crime problems underscore the need for law enforcement leadership based on efficiency and best practices, not political expedience and patronage.

When asked to comment on White’s firing, Holden said that he doesn’t publicly discuss personnel matters. But when the top leader of the city’s primary law enforcement agency gets the ax amid speculation that he was forced out because of politics, the mayor has an obligation to answer public concerns.

Holden recently entered his third term promising to work closely with the Metro Council, with whom he has frequently been at odds. But members of the Metro Council seemed unaware of the details concerning White’s firing.

The mayor has the authority to hire and fire the police chief, but the manner in which he handled White’s exit doesn’t inspire public confidence.

Craft said that White will try to win back his job at an appeal hearing later this month. We hope that hearing is open to the public. Baton Rouge residents need to know how their police department is being operated — and if public security has been trumped for political gain.