Chief: Police lack city’s trust

The Police Department lacks trust with the city’s black residents, Police Chief Dewayne White said Wednesday.

White, speaking on the “Baton Rouge’s Morning News with Clay Young and Kevin Meeks” show on WJBO radio Wednesday, was asked about what kind of “imprint” he wants to leave on the Police Department after being named chief in May.

White said he has been to numerous inner-city churches and Metro Council district meetings, where he has seen the lack of trust firsthand.

“When the question is raised, with an African-American congregation or a constituency, whether they trust the Police Department, no one raises their hand,” White said. “That, in itself, is indicative of a problem, and we have got to win the trust. We have got to win the trust of that community.”

White said the lack of trust stems from the community’s interaction with a small group of officers who are insensitive and “stigmatize a group of people.”

“Not everyone who’s an African American is a criminal,” White said.

White also pointed out that his line of thinking on the issue is simply his perception of it.

“Whether it’s misguided or not, I don’t know,” White said. “My intuition tells me that’s the problem. How do I change that? I change that by trying to win the hearts and the minds of the officers and tell them that we have to be sensitive to the public’s needs.”

Lamont Cole, a former president and still-active member of the NAACP’s Baton Rouge chapter, agreed with White in that there is “definitely” a lack of trust in police with the city’s black residents.

“But it stems from a history of isolated incidents that have been reported negatively,” Cole said.

Police have historically only been a presence in black neighborhoods during negative situations, such as crime, Cole said

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would like to see police interacting with the community during positive situations, such as youth sporting events, Cole said.

“I think if the chief of police is going to promote a more community-oriented policing effort … when things are going positively, I think you’d see a better relationship,” Cole said.

The NAACP will contact White “very soon” to develop ways to increase trust between police and the community, Cole said.

“We do have a challenge in our community,” Cole said. “We want to work with the Police Department.”

White has made similar remarks about earning community trust several times during his tenure as police chief.

White is asking the Metro Council for three deputy chief positions to gain accountability, professionalism and public trust, which he said the Police Department especially lacks with the city’s black residents.

White said without that community’s support, “we will do little to regulate crime.”

White also said at a Metro Council District 6 community meeting in early June that he wanted his officers to go door-to-door to meet residents and form relationships with them.

White said after that meeting that bridge between the community and police has “widened” since he left the Police Department in 1990 to join Louisiana State Police, which he left this year to become police chief.

White was also asked on WJBO on Wednesday about the city’s high murder rates in recent years.

The number of homicides in Baton Rouge reached 75 in 2009 — the highest on record — and hit 69 in 2010.

There have been 61 homicides in Baton Rouge in 2011, according to a list of homicides compiled by The Advocate.

White said from what he has seen so far, most of the murders are linked to “drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs.”

“It seems like every murder has some nexus to drugs,” he said.

White said ways for the city to fix its crime problems is keeping children in schools, as well as providing them better role models other than “drug dealers who do nothing all day but (things) that are basically just a dredge on society.”