Lafayette Police chief delivers wish list

Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft laid out a $22 million wish list Monday, including a proposal to add 40 patrol officers, build a new a police station and add two new precinct substations.

The proposal came at a meeting of the city-parish Future Needs/Funding Sources Committee, a citizens advisory group created by the City-Parish Council in February to map out strategies to address the needs of local government.

The $22 million wish list was mainly for facilities needs — $15 million for a new police station and $1 million for two new precinct substations — but also included $1 million for an updated records management system and $350,000 for a new mobile command center.

City-parish officials have just begun to talk of the need for a new police station.

The department moved into its current headquarters near the corner of Pinhook Road and University Avenue in 1997.

The building, which is about 36 years old, once served as offices for an oil and gas company and has long had structural problems.

“It’s pretty old now, so all the equipment is starting to fail,” Craft said.

He said the department would like to build a modern facility in a more central location, possibly near the intersection of Congress Street and Bertrand Drive.

Outside of one-time money for new facilities, Craft’s wish list included about $4 million for 40 new officers, as well as their training and equipment.

Craft said the department now has funding for 257 officers, but he said that number should be north of 300 for a city the size of Lafayette.

Craft also pushed Monday for better starting pay for new recruits.

He said a boost is badly needed to attract and keep top candidates.

Starting pay for an entry-level officer in Lafayette is $31,960 a year, which is below what some smaller law enforcement agencies in the area are paying.

“We have to get our starting salary to about $36,000 a year,” Craft said.

The requests for more pay, more officers and better facilities come at a time when there is little wiggle room in the city-parish budget.

Stagnant pay at the department became an issue earlier this year when the local police union backed state legislation to mandate a 2 percent annual raise for Lafayette officers.

The legislation, which would have applied only when city sales tax collections hit certain benchmarks, was ultimately withdrawn after the administration pledged to take a hard look at boosting pay in next year’s budget.

City-Parish Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups said police pay is a top priority, but no decision has been made on whether it will be addressed in upcoming budget.

“All of that is still up in the air,” she said.

Craft said better pay also is needed for some civilian staff, particularly records personnel who make far below their counterparts in other areas of the state.

“How can a city the size of Lafayette have the lowest-paid records clerks? It’s just not right,” the chief said.

The Police Department’s annual budget is about $33.3 million, most of which comes from the city’s general budget because a dedicated property tax for public safety brings in only about $4 million.

The Future Needs Committee has been hearing from city-parish department heads since March. The group is next scheduled to hear from Fire Chief Robert Benoit on July 14.

Committee member Chad Hanks said he expects the group to send its findings to the council this fall.