Public safety complex concerns voiced

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux talks to Metro Council members about the possibility of combining the Sheriff's Office and Baton Rouge Police Department  during a retreat at the Old Governor's Mansion Friday. Gautreaux volunteered his opinion that, 'Baton Rouge would be better served with an elected police chief.'
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux talks to Metro Council members about the possibility of combining the Sheriff's Office and Baton Rouge Police Department during a retreat at the Old Governor's Mansion Friday. Gautreaux volunteered his opinion that, 'Baton Rouge would be better served with an elected police chief.'

Sheriff airs issues sharing a facility with BR police

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said Friday he has concerns about Mayor-President Kip Holden’s proposal to move the Baton Rouge Police Department and Sheriff’s Office to a shared public safety complex at the site of the old Woman’s Hospital on Airline Highway.

During a nearly hourlong question and answer session with Metro Council members Friday during a retreat at the Old Governor’s Mansion, Gautreaux also talked about his pending move to a leased location at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. He also offered his views on a proposal to merge the city’s Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office and the idea of electing a police chief for the city of Baton Rouge.

Concerning Woman’s Hospital, Gautreaux said the idea behind the proposal is good.

“I am all for the concept of a joint public safety complex,” Gautreaux said. “I think it’s a good move to bring the city police and sheriff together in one complex.”

Such a move could improve communication and information-sharing, Gautreaux said.

However, Gautreaux said he has concerns about the facilities on the former hospital campus that the city-parish has proposed to buy for $10 million.

“At the end of the day, once it’s purchased, once the tearing down and remodeling is done, how much money is going to be left to do what we need to do to our part of the building?” he asked.

Holden said in a telephone interview after the meeting that Gautreaux’s concerns were premature.

“They have not even done the complete study of how everything would be laid out,” he said.

Gautreaux would have some input on the facility, Holden added.

“The bottom line is simply this: Baton Rouge is paying for it and therefore, whatever space would be allocated is going to be done through DPW and William Daniel mainly to look at the best use of the facility,” Holden said, referring to his chief administrative officer and the Department of Public Works.

Daniel said the Police Department could be at the Woman’s Hospital site by the end of the year and the sheriff would follow soon after.

Daniel said the city-parish is required constitutionally to provide a facility for the sheriff.

He stressed the city-parish is committed to make sure the facility fits the sheriff’s needs.

Gautreaux is set to move from his current headquarters at the Municipal Building downtown to a leased location at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport.

The sheriff said the move could be completed by May and indicated he is in no hurry to relocate from that facility

“We will be fine at the airport for a long time,” he said.

Gautreaux said it would cost about $500,000 to complete the necessary renovations on the airport location, and said he plans to approach the Metro Council for assistance in paying for the renovations.

Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel asked Gautreaux his thoughts on a proposed merger of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Baton Rouge City Police.

“A merger would be an in-depth process,” Gautreaux said. “It would be a costly process.”

A consolidated law enforcement agency would have to be under the authority of the sheriff, Gautreaux said.

“By law, the sheriff is going to have to be in charge of that,” he said.

One of the main reasons given by proponents of the merger — to save money by eliminating redundant services — is not nearly as big a factor as has been intimated, Gautreaux said.

“It would virtually eliminate command staff at Baton Rouge City,” Gautreaux said. “Other than that, there is not much duplication.”

The Baton Rouge City Police has only a criminal division, but the Sheriff’s Office has civil and corrections divisions, he said.

“We police a bigger geographic location than they do, but they police about 30,000 more people and they handle more calls than we do,” he said

Gautreaux said the city police have about 300 more patrol officers than the Sheriff’s Office.

“We do more with less than them,” he said. “I can not tell you that I would not like to have all of those resources at my disposal,” he said.

Combining the cultures of the two agencies would also be difficult, he said.

“Historically, there has been a resentment from the Baton Rouge city when the sheriff comes into the Baton Rouge City limits,” he said.

Although the workforce of the Sheriff’s Office is not unionized, procedures are in place to protect employees, Gautreaux said.

“You are going to have some battles,” he said. “The union is not for it, the mayor’s not for it.”

The mayor has said he does not favor consolidation, but a Metro Council committee has been established to study the issue.

Gautreaux also shared his thoughts on the benefits of being in an elected position versus an appointed one, an issue under discussion by the Metro Council since Holden fired former Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White last month.

“I don’t like any situation where somebody in that position of authority answers to just one person,” he said. “I don’t think it serves the public well.”

Gautreaux said electing a police chief could be a good thing.

“I think Baton Rouge would be better served with an elected police chief,” Gautreaux said.