People stunned Metro Council denies them chance to elect BRPD chief

People stunned Metro Council denies them chance to elect BRPD chief
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POSTED: Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 5:04am

Passionate speeches were not enough to give more power of naming their police chief to voters in Baton Rouge.

The East Baton Rouge Metro Council chose Wednesday to end talks about letting the public choose to elect the chief of the Baton Rouge Police Department.

"I'm just totally shocked," said Carol Thornton.

In order to make chief of police an elected position, the Metro Council would have to approve a special election, in which all East Baton Rouge Parish residents would have to vote in favor of changing the plan of government. Then a second election would be held for residents of Baton Rouge to name the chief.

Seven people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, all of them urging the council to turn police chief into an elected office. They were extremely disappointed that will not happen, feeling like the council did not want to listen to its constituents.

"The councilors are so disrespectful," Thornton said. "They laughing, they talking, not paying attention to the people."

The council asked that people not consider the firing of former police chief Dewayne White when they made their remarks. But it was clear that people want to elect the chief in large part because they lost trust in Mayor Kip Holden over his treatment of White.

"Poverty creates crime, and education eliminates poverty," explained Timothy Carter. "This police chief never talked about just locking people up, he talked about the community coming together. That's the job of a real police chief.

"I'm part of a society, they would consider me, a young black man, as the criminal element. And this chief is a white guy who looked at us differently."

But while the public clamored for a chance to vote for police chief, a few members of the council disagreed. Most vocal among them was John Delgado.

"This would be a really terrible idea," he stated. 

One area where Delgado differed with the people in attendance was the idea of politics. Delgado said that instead of answering to the mayor, an elected chief would have to spend time campaigning, with the power shifting to big donors.

"One of the premises for electing the police chief was to take the politics out of this process. And in fact, electing the police chief would do nothing more than inject politics into this situation," he said.

But those in favor of electing a chief said we trust other leaders to serve the public after an election, so there would be little harm in voting for police chief, as well.

"You gonna have to spend money to be able to run for governor, so what do you mean that you don't want to put the politics into it? It's already there."

Council members estimated the two elections would cost roughly $500,000. Some council members disliked that residents of other cities around the parish would be involved in the process of choosing Baton Rouge's police chief, while residents of unincorporated parts of the city would not be able to participate in the second of the two elections.

Another problem with voting for the position is that candidates from within the police department would have to resign due to civil service laws that prevent police officers from running for political office.

The council promised to come back to the idea in a few months. They want the furor over White's firing to die down, and they want to see the results of a committee that is investigating combining the police department and sheriff's office.

"I think right now might be premature to bring this to the public," said Buddy Amoroso.

But the people did not think the council were sincere about giving the idea a second life.

"I think there's already too much political, behind-the-scenes negotiations," Carter claimed, "so I'm sure later on, when they bring it, it's going to be another, 'later on,' it's going to be another, 'let's put it back to another agenda.'"

"Now it's time, and we're in the 20th century," agreed Thornton. "It's time to let the people decide who they want to serve them."

Another option proposed by Delgado was to give the council the power to confirm the mayor's choice, as Congress gets to approve the president's picks for many federal positions.

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