Boé says EBR law enforcement merger talks ‘losing steam’

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Metro Councilman Joel Boé, right, chairman of the East Baton Rouge Parish Law Enforcement  Unification Committee talks with Mayor-President Kip Holden's chief administrative officer, William Daniel, left, about the committee's objectives.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Metro Councilman Joel Boé, right, chairman of the East Baton Rouge Parish Law Enforcement Unification Committee talks with Mayor-President Kip Holden's chief administrative officer, William Daniel, left, about the committee's objectives.

Councilman shrinking proposal

Metro Councilman Joel Boé said Wednesday he has scaled back his expectations for a potential merger of all East Baton Rouge Parish law enforcement agencies, acknowledging growing resistance among the parish’s smaller municipalities.

“It’s not gaining steam, and there are some times when I think it’s losing steam and sinking quickly,” Boé said of the East Baton Rouge Parish Law Enforcement Unification Committee, a panel exploring ways to eliminate overlap among law enforcement agencies.

Boé, who serves as the committee’s chairman, has been an outspoken proponent of consolidating parish law enforcement agencies, saying a unified police force would save taxpayer dollars.

But Boé said it appears increasingly likely the panel will consider more-incremental options, such as possibly first folding the Baton Rouge City Constable’s Office into the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.

“What I’m feeling is that if this is going to even happen, it’s going to have to be bitten off in small pieces,” Boé said. “I just think that politically and legally the battles are so immense we may have to take it in small bites.”

Boé’s remarks came after a brief unification committee meeting in which the panel nearly failed to reach a quorum and postponed its main agenda item. A representative of the Baker Police Department had been expected to present a report from Chief Mike Knaps on the feasibility of forming a metro squad, a multi-agency task force Knaps has proposed calling “Five-O” because it would ideally include five agencies.

Knaps, who proposed the task force last month, was out of town on Wednesday visiting family and preparing to attend a law enforcement conference in Shreveport. He said he has not yet finished gauging the interest of all parish law enforcement agencies in participating in a metro squad, and that he would not have been prepared to give a final report at Wednesday’s meeting.

“The consolidation is dead,” Knaps said in a telephone interview. “If we all said, ‘Yes, we like the idea of a consolidated police force,’ it would be a nightmare and cost millions of dollars just to figure out how to do.”

Committee members have balked at the prospect of spending thousands of dollars to examine the logistics of merging the Sheriff’s Office and the Baton Rouge Police Department.

Councilman John Delgado, a member of the committee who is opposed to consolidation, has said those dollars could be used instead to buy bullet-proof vests or other equipment to protect the parish’s law enforcement officials.

“I don’t think we should stop our discussion,” Delgado said recently. “But I don’t want to spend $50,000 studying it. If we can get a cheap study done, I’m fine with it.”

Lane Grigsby, a politically active businessman, began a campaign called “Fight Not Fear” that has advocated for the unification of the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office. Grigsby said in an interview Wednesday that he is trying to raise money to hire an outside firm to conduct an independent study of a possible consolidation.

“We’re going to raise some money and see which firms are out there,” Grigsby said, adding he was looking into a number of consulting firms, including one founded by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

“It’s not going to be cheap,” he added. “It’s not going to be $4.95.”

Boé asked committee members from Baker, Central and Zachary at Wednesday’s meeting to check with their respective city governments to see whether they have enough interest in consolidating for their representatives to continue serving on the panel.

“Considering those three cities make up less than 5 percent of the overall law enforcement budget we’re talking about — not to say that they’re small potatoes — there’s a bigger picture and there’s bigger fish to fry,” Boé added. “Maybe today Baker, Central and Zachary aren’t involved in it, but 10 years from now maybe they are after we would have merged BRPD, the Sheriff’s Office and the Constable’s Office.”