BR police to increase patrol numbers

Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White said Tuesday he plans to add several dozen officers to the ranks patrolling the streets of the Capital City, a move he said was inspired by the early success of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination crime-fighting project.

“We believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” White said. “As we stand now, the volume of calls consumes so much of the officers’ time with report writing that we’re really not able to get out and interact with the community as I would like for them to do.”

The department will achieve an unprecedented level of “boots on the ground” by retaining in its patrol division all 33 graduates of the recent 78th Basic Academy, White said, and by not transferring current patrol officers into other divisions once the recruits complete field training.

It had been the department’s practice to transfer about 30 veteran officers from patrol after new officers finish training, keeping the size of the patrol division the same, even as the city’s population has grown and demands for services have increased, White said. The chief said the department will apply the same practice with the 79th Basic Academy, a class scheduled to begin in February that is expected to add 25 to 30 new officers in patrol.

The two classes together will increase from 240 to roughly 300 the number of non-supervisory officers and corporals who spend their shifts patrolling neighborhoods and answering calls, said Lt. Don Kelly, a police spokesman.

“With the present complement of officers, even though it is sufficient to answer the call volume that we have, it is insufficient to actively engage in community-oriented policing, which we have found in the 70805 ZIP code to have been very beneficial,” White said.

The BRAVE initiative has centered on the 70805 ZIP code area, a region bordered by Airline Highway to the north and east, Choctaw Drive to the south and the Mississippi River to the west that has accounted for a disproportionate amount of the city’s violent crime. As part of the program, authorities have said, they plan to bring in known criminals for meetings known as “call-ins” to warn them about the consequences of leading a life of crime.

White said officers assigned to that area “are now on a first-name basis with a lot of the residents of that community.” Officers working with BRAVE have made more than 300 drug arrests based on information they have received from the public through community policing, he said.

“If we establish that same model in other parts of the city, it can only yield the same results,” White added.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said increased patrols already have yielded more arrests for guns and drugs and “could possibly be the reason for the drop in homicides during the last four months of 2012.”

“Increasing the odds that someone who chooses to commit crime will have an encounter with a law enforcement officer decreases their chances at being successful and continuing to commit criminal activity,” Moore said. “Increased patrols should also help those law-abiding citizens in taking back their communities and standing up to those who put it at risk.”

Chris Stewart, president of the Baton Rouge Union of Police Local 237, declined to comment about White’s announcement.

The announcement did draw praise from community leaders. The Rev. Alvin Herring, executive director of Working Interfaith Network, a coalition of local churches and other faith-based organizations, said increased uniform patrols will ensure “greater safety.

“I and many who live and work in some of Baton Rouge’s toughest neighborhoods welcome this new addition of uniform patrol officers,” Herring said. “With proper training, these new resources could aid in the BRAVE work and other efforts.”

The new patrols come at a time when several subdivisions in East Baton Rouge Parish are paying for extra protection through neighborhood crime prevention and improvement districts. The districts are funded by the proceeds of parcel fees earmarked for security patrols, improved lighting, cameras and other neighborhood enhancements.

Aaron Martinez, organizer of Webb Neighbors, an email communication network of residents mostly in the Webb Park area, said the new patrols “certainly won’t hurt” Baton Rouge’s crime problem.

“We need to get more bang for our buck,” Martinez said. “Lord knows, the budget has increased substantially over the past few years, and the number of uniform patrol officers has remained steady at best.”

Kelly said additional patrols would deter crime through more visibility, and also provide for better response times. Police officials plan to reassess staffing throughout the department, with an eye toward possibly shifting some officers from other divisions back into patrol.

“The public does expect that when they pick up the phone and call the police and they need them, they want them right now,” Kelly said.