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Metro council approves pay raise for Baton Rouge police officers
BATON ROUGE - A pay raise for Baton Rouge police officers was among the items OK'd by the metro council Tuesday.
The council also approved Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's budget proposal for 2021, which includes a restructuring of the Baton Rouge Police Department.
The reorganization of BRPD adds a fourth deputy chief and removes three captain positions. This idea was presented as a result of a recent efficiency study of BRPD's structure.
But some of BRPD's own are staunchly against the proposed reorganization. The Baton Rouge Union of Police, for example, doesn't believe that adding a fourth deputy chief is the right move.
The union took steps to publicly voice its concerns by setting up several large billboards that declared as much and by having a representative engage in a public interview centered around the controversial topic.
Shortly after the billboards appeared and the interview became known, BRPD leaders launched an internal investigation into one of the union's leaders, Siya Creel.
Creel, the vice president of the Baton Rouge Union of Police, was the union representative who appeared in the controversial public interview.
He responded to the investigation by filing a lawsuit against BRPD, on the basis of his free speech rights being violated.
BRPD's Chief Paul, however, maintains that Creel's rights were not violated.
He issued a statement in response to the lawsuit saying, "the Baton Rouge Police Department has complete and total respect for the First Amendment rights of every citizen in our community. This includes every member of our department. Having said that, we will not speak on an administrative investigation."
The Advocate reports that a letter Chief Paul issued to Creel clarified the reason for the department's internal investigation, citing its intention to get to the root of several potential violations of department rules.
The letter, which was penned to official inform Creel of pending disciplinary action, goes on to say he was not authorized to give an interview that would lead the general public to believe he was representing BRPD, and it points out that Creel was wearing his departmental badge and gun during the taped interview.
Creel has been placed on paid administrative leave pending a discipline decision from the chief, a BRPD spokesman confirmed to The Advocate. His discipline could range from a letter of reprimand to unpaid suspension or complete termination from the department.
Despite the contentions between Creel and the union and Paul and BRPD leaders, one issue both parties agree on is the fact that local police are in need of a raise.
The three-percent raise for Baton Rouge officers would cost $1.8 million annually and be partially funded by a $726,000 reduction in overtime expenses and holiday pay.
City officials feel higher salaries and reduced overtime hours will create a more efficient system for managing the department and successfully replacing existing practices that often force officers to depend on supplemental pay to supplement their low wages.
City leaders said the anticipated three-percent raise would only be an initial step to higher salaries for local officers. They hope to revisit the issue again in 2021 and possibly implement a second pay raise before 2022.
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