BRPD one year later: Finding small changes to exact greater change

BRPD one year later: Finding small changes to exact greater change

POSTED: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 5:30am

UPDATED: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 3:31pm

Day-to-day operations at a law enforcement agency are generally of little interest to headline news. It’s the sensational, controversial, or scandalous topics that tend to grab attention. However, is it possible that attempting to solve everyday problems can effect some of the most significant change?

One year ago today Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White was sworn into office. Soon thereafter he began the arduous task of finding those small cracks in the system that had previously gone overlooked, then determining which ones to fix first.

Near the top of that list was an issue few in the city know of, unless they're one of the 635 officers currently working for the department.

“The number one complaint I received when I first became Chief was the current prisoner transport processing system,” Chief White, explained. “That was the number one gripe from the officers.

“The officers at present are required to bring the prisoners to First District on Plank Road before they can go to the Parish Prison,” Chief White, noted. “In some cases they have to spend up to four hours on one arrest. That’s half of a shift.”

The solution? Eliminate the middle man and go directly to jail.

“We’re going to take them to prison directly, no waiting,” Cpt. Attuso, Administrative Assistant to Chief White and key player in coordinating the new Prisoner Processing Team (PPT), said. “There’s also no longer a waiting period for that officer.”

There are several other issues related to the current system. For example, at the First District location only one prisoner can be processed at a time.

“If an officer gets to First District with a prisoner and there are already four people there waiting, that officer has to wait for those people to finish before he can even go to Parish Prison,” Cpt. Attuso said. “That can be up to an hour and a half backlog. Then, once he gets to parish prison, he may have another wait because there are four or five other agencies that book into the Parish Prison on a regular basis.”

Under the new system, which will be in effect as of June 19, the Parish Prison will house a total of eight Baton Rouge Police Department officers who will be devoted to processing BRPD prisoners, only. An arresting officer will have the ability, essentially, to drop the prisoner off and leave without waiting for the full processing to be completed.

What’s more, the First District location will take on a new, singular purpose.

“We will still use the First District location to process juveniles,” Cpt. Attuso explained. “But, we’ll no longer have to move the adults from the area when a juvenile is booked.

“By law, an adult and a juvenile cannot be in the same area at the same time when they are being booked,” he added. “[The Sheriff’s Department] will also do all their booking for juveniles at the First District location.”

So what does all this mean?

Chief White firmly believes that speeding up the system will result in more misdemeanor arrests and arrests for non-felony warrants.

“Most of my officers are hesitant to make an arrest for those charges due to the inordinate amount of time it takes to process them, because it leaves their squad short,” Chief White said. “A police officer is required to make an arrest for a felony warrant, only. With a misdemeanor warrant, that’s up to the officer’s discretion whether or not they make that arrest.

“I can empathize with them for not wanting to make that arrest,” he added. “I can promise that by cutting that time we will book more people for outstanding warrants and that will cut down on the number of crimes that are happening in the area.

“I could take you and one of your reporters and we could do some probable-cause stops in and around areas where there are a high number of burglaries, and I promise that within an hour or two we could find someone with a number of warrants for arrests,” he added.

Chief White believes that the additional arrests will serve a fiscal benefit as well.

“All of the entities within the city-parish government are funded out of one big pot of money,” Chief White said. “When we make these arrests for outstanding warrants…they will have to bond out. What I know will happen is that we will see the money for our city court go up probably 200 percent over the next year.”

But what about the eight officers being taken off the street to implement this new system?

“Even though we know we have a shortage of officers on the road, the added reduction in time per arrest by officers will more than make up for the loss of man power by those individuals,” Chief White said.

The Baton Rouge Police Department is allotted a total of 672 officers. Today, there are roughly 37 vacant positions, two of which will soon be filled.

“We’re in range of two direct hires that I brought in from the Walker Police Department and from Livingston,” Chief White said when asked about the current shortage. “They are two exceptional officers that I was able to hire and bring straight over.”

The remaining shortage will soon be filled, too.

On July 1 the Baton Rouge Police Department will begin training for a new class of roughly 35 potential officers. This is the first new class since August 2009.

Not all, however, will make it through the program.

“With the different measurement tests, we’re able to determine whether they have what it takes and if they have it within themselves to really make it as an officer,” Chief White said. “About 10 percent on average do not make it through.”

Chief White is optimistic with the new class of recruits and says there’s an added level of diversity he feels is currently lacking in the department.

“We’re getting very strong candidates and a lot of strong female candidates as well,” he said. “I believe in diversity and that there’s strength in diversity.”

If you’re doing the math, you’ll quickly figure that there will still be a shortage from the maximum number of officers allotted to the department. However, Chief White feels that the BRAVE program as well as other community measures will go a long way in filling the gaps left behind.

“As far as enforcement, I’ve disbanded criminal patrols. A lot of people disagree with that, but I believe that we keep trying some of the traditional methods that no longer yield viable results, so why don’t we try something new,” Chief White, admitted. “With Operation Cease Fire (BRAVE), I have a select group of five individuals and their job is to go into the 70805 community and partner with those good, hard working, productive members of society who live in the neighborhood and earn their trust. Their job is to help the people who are being held captive in their home and those people who deserve to live in relative peace and harmony.”

Chief White plans to introduce those five officers to the community in the very near future and will allow an opportunity for the public to ask questions about the program. This is something he’s recently begun to do at various public forum meetings in high crime areas of the city.

“We’re doing monthly community outreach meetings in inner city areas,” Chief White noted. “We try to visit each of our inner city districts. We also visit with an inner city church as well.”

As you can see, all of these measures bode well on paper, but to what level will they be effective? The first year has been devoted to finding the flaws in the system. The second year will determine whether BRPD is moving toward a permanent solution, or a temporary patch over a much larger hole.

CORRECTION: This story originally reported that this is the first new class of officers since 2009, which was provided to us during our interview with Chief White. We have since been informed that there was another new class of officers between that time period that began on August 22, 2011. We’re told 25 officers were in that class. We apologize for this error.



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