Police merger idea pushed

East Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Joel Boé said he hopes members can be appointed by the end of the year to a committee that will be tasked with studying a potential merger of the Baton Rouge Police Department and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The committee was officially formed by an April 2011 Metro Council resolution, Boé said, but no members were ever appointed and no meetings were held. But Boé said last week the time was right to revive the idea of forming the committee to study the idea.

Boé said he hopes the committee could hold its first meeting in January.

A couple of things prompted the move to revive the idea, Boé said.

“It’s evident when you have friends and co-workers from outside Baton Rouge sending you messages about our crime problem,” Boé said.

Crime finishing fourth among local business concerns in the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s annual Economic Outlook report and resulting media coverage were also a factor, Boé said.

“Crime has everything to do with economics,” he said.

Boé also cited a campaign started by businessman Lane Grigsby, called “Fight Not Fear,” which advocates the unification of the two law enforcement agencies.

“The campaign has generated phone calls, messages, and questions about why can’t it be done,” Boé said.

Merging the two departments would require a change to the Plan of Government as well as the approval of the Legislature, Boé said.

The two police agencies also have different retirement systems, Boé said.

“It’s a good idea, but you have this huge mountain you have to climb,” Boé said.

Mayor-President Kip Holden said during his re-election campaign that he opposed the idea. The Baton Rouge Union of Police is “adamantly against it,” according to the union’s president, Chris Stewart, a Baton Rouge police corporal.

“It’s very problematic,” Stewart said.

Merging the two would involve combining Baton Rouge police officers, who are Civil Service employees, and Sheriff’s Office deputies, who are not, into a common law enforcement agency, Stewart said.

The city’s police union would also have to modify its collective bargaining agreement with the city, he said, and “the cost to the taxpayers would be enormous.”

For now, Boé just wants to talk about the issue.

“In my mind, I want to get hold of the process that needs to happen,” he said.

The council committee would follow a two-step process, Boé said, first determining if merging the two police agencies is a viable option and then examining how it could be done.

The issue of consolidating the city’s Police Department and Sheriff’s Office was explored in the late 1960s, late 1970s and most recently in 2002, when former Mayor-President Bobby Simpson created a committee to review how to improve city-parish government efficiency.

The 2002 committee recommended the city-parish explore combining the resources of the Police, Sheriff and Constable’s Offices into one parishwide law enforcement agency.

The 2011 resolution calls for three members of the Metro Council to sit on the committee, along with a representative from both the Sheriff’s Office and the City Police Department.

Boé said he would like to add a representative from the Mayor’s Office to the committee. The council would need to amend the original resolution for that to happen, said Brian Mayers, the council’s administrator.

Boé said he would sit on the committee and said he plans to ask his fellow Metro Council members for volunteers.

A spokesman for the city police referred all questions to Holden’s office.

A spokesman for Holden said the mayor made his position on the matter clear during the campaign.

A spokeswoman for East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux did not respond to an email seeking comment from the sheriff.

Stewart said the police union was not opposed to discussing the idea.

“We will open a dialogue with anyone,” he said.

The union represents about 94 percent of the department’s sworn officers, Stewart said.