Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul is getting push back from within his department over his decision to discipline the two officers involved in the July 2016 shooting death of Alton Sterling.
Following a lunchtime speech to the community organization Together Baton Rouge, Paul said he’s received written communication from officers who are refusing to engage in certain “extracurricular activities” because they’re unhappy with his decision, announced March 30, to fire Salamoni and suspend Lake for three days.
Those activities include teaching continuing education classes and providing training to existing officers within the department, he said.
“We haven’t had anybody resign,” Paul said. “But we’ve had guys, basically, send in letters saying they don’t want to do certain extracurricular things.”
Paul declined to say how many officers he’s heard from but said he’s “trying to be optimistic” that it’s not too many. BRPD spokesman Cpl. Don Copolla later told Daily Report the number of officers the chief has heard from is “very small,” though he could not provide a specific number.
Paul said he did not know the race of the officers and has not asked because he does not want to know.
Sterling was black. The officers—Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake—involved in his shooting death are white.
Reaction to Paul’s decision within the department appears to mirror that within the broader, sharply divided community. Many hailed his decision to fire Salamoni, who fired the six shots into Sterling, because the officer, arguably, escalated the situation. Others criticized the decision, arguing the officers were acting in self defense.
Both state and federal agencies declined to file criminal charges against the officers.
Paul today took full responsibility for the flack he’s gotten for his decision. He said he did a poor job at the March 30 press conference explaining his reasons for taking the actions he did against Salamoni and Lake. Salamoni’s stated plans to appeal the decision precluded him from being more specific about what went into the decision-making process, he said.
In the coming weeks, Paul plans to meet in groups with every BRPD officer to better explain his decision and give them an opportunity to ask questions.
“Everybody does not agree with my decision,” he said. “So it is up to me to win them over.”
Paul’s comments about reaction to the decision came at the end of comments to Together Baton Rouge, in which he vowed to focus on reforming the culture of the BRPD, increasing officer training and pushing for pay raises for officers.
Paul also said he is looking to create new response teams to address domestic violence, truancy and mental illness.
He declined to comment on the department’s contract with the powerful Baton Rouge Police Union, which contains language that calls for the destruction of the results of disciplinary investigations into officer conduct.
“I can’t speak to the language of the contract because I haven’t sat down with the union yet,” he said. “But before June (when the contract is up) we will sit down and have a heart to heart about what we need to do to have a progressive agency.”