Another attempt to create one police agency in EBR fizzles

It wasn’t the first time that a group of officials decided to look into the possibility of merging the parish’s law enforcement agencies, and it probably won’t be the last.

But the conclusion was the same: The law enforcement agencies won’t be consolidating anytime soon.

Beginning in March, representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, the Baton Rouge, Zachary, Central and Baker Police departments, the Mayor-President’s Office and the Metro Council met monthly to discuss law enforcement consolidation.

The effort was pushed by Councilman Joel Boé, who assembled the committee in hopes of paving a path toward consolidation.

Boé, who chaired the committee, said it immediately became evident that law enforcement representatives had no interest in merging.

“The intent was a total law enforcement unification, but it became evident pretty quickly that there was simply no appetite from any law enforcement across the parish,” Boé said.

“So it was never going to gain any traction at least with our current police chiefs or current sheriff.”

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said he wasn’t surprised that the committee ultimately fizzled out.

“No matter how good the intentions are, the bottom line is that the hurdles to make this happen, the obstacles that are there, are too big,” Gautreaux said. “You can overcome them with money and time, but in the meantime, what are we going to do to address crime?”

Dating back to the 1960s and as recently as 2011, local officials periodically have explored the possibility of police consolidation.

The effort has repeatedly been tabled because of the perceived logistical nightmares associated with trying to merge the dissimilar agencies.

In Baton Rouge, for example, the police are civil service employees and the sheriff’s deputies aren’t.

Police and deputies also draw from different retirement systems, and have different guidelines for pay scales and promotions. The police officers have a union, but the sheriff’s deputies don’t.

And the sheriff is elected, while the police chief is appointed.

Baker Police Chief Mike Knaps said there was never a need to consolidate because each of the departments’ officers are knowledgeable about the activity in their respective areas.

“They know their area and they know their people. That doesn’t need to be messed with,” Knaps said. “None of that needs to be tampered with.”

While consolidation was abandoned, the committee did agree that interagency communication was key to improving law enforcement.

The committee has proposed a task force called “EBR 5-0” with representatives from all of the parish law enforcement agencies who will meet once a month to exchange information and intelligence.

Knaps, who sat on the unification committee, said the task force will be instrumental in improving law enforcement and never would have been possible without the committee meetings that brought everyone to the table.

“The last thing criminals want is the law enforcement community communicating,” Knaps said. “It’s way past the time and day when law enforcement agencies want to do it on their own. Now we’re all working together.”

Gautreaux said law enforcement task forces already have demonstrated results, with successes seen from interagency cooperation for the Violent Crime Unit and Operation BRAVE, which has targeted the 70805 ZIP code.

But, he said the agencies need to communicate on a daily basis about criminal activity.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. declined comment. But police spokesman Lt. Don Kelly said in an email, “We were regularly sharing information and working with all of our area law enforcement partners throughout the parish before the consolidation discussions began, and we will continue to do so now that the consolidation discussions have ended.”

Boé said he respects the opinions of the law enforcement professionals, but felt disappointed they were not more open to the idea.

He said he still thinks consolidation is a worthwhile effort, but it will require support from the mayor-president.

“The only way it’s ever going to generate enough steam is if there is a mayor that is willing to champion this,” he said. “It just hasn’t been a priority for Mayor Holden.”

Mayor-President Kip Holden has previously stated he opposes consolidation, and when asked about it on Monday said his position has not changed.

He also dismissed the idea the committee was seriously considering consolidation, adding it was being politically motivated by businessman Lane Grigsby, who poured money into a campaign last year pressuring officials to seek consolidation.

“There was not an effort to unify. That was Lane Grigsby,” he said. “(The committee) was exploring alternatives. It was not an effort to unify.

“It was an exploration of ideas as to whether or not there were things out there that might be able to work better than the system that’s in place.”

Advocate staff writer Jim Mustian contributed to this report.