Call for protest Wednesday in support of proposed police residency ordinance draws fire

City and state officials are taking issue with the timing of a proposed Metro Council ordinance—and related protest in support of it—that would require new Baton Rouge Police Department hires to live inside the city limits of Baton Rouge.

Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks has placed the proposed measure on the agenda for introduction at Wednesday’s council meeting. Gary Chambers, activist and publisher of The Rouge Collection, has called for a “Protest to Policy” right before the meeting, at 3:30 p.m., on the steps of City Hall to show support for the ordinance.

But some are incensed by the timing of the measure’s introduction and the idea of a protest, coming just two days after the last of three law enforcement officers killed in a July 17 ambush attack was laid to rest.

“If you want to have a discussions about residency requirements, that’s fine,” says Metro Councilman and mayoral candidate John Delgado. “But it is without class to do so the week that we bury these men.”

Delgado says he is so disgusted with the timing of the events that he may try to block the ordinance’s introduction. A vote of seven council members could delete the item from the agenda and prevent it from being debated at a future council meeting. Otherwise, the measure will be read into the record Wednesday, though not discussed on its merits.

Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who has previously studied and supported instituting a residency requirement for new BRPD officers, says she does not support deleting the item from the agenda. But nor does she support addressing the issue at this time.

“I think we should defer this 60 or 90 days,” Collins-Lewis says. “Right now, there is another officer critically fighting for his life and we should keep that in mind.”

BRPD officers Matthew Gerald and Montrell Jackson were killed in the attack, as well as East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafola. EBRSO Deputy Nicholas Tullier was critically wounded.

As for the planned protest, which would be the first in the city since the funerals for the slain officers began last Friday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said earlier this week he thinks protesting is not the most effective way at this time to address the issues of a police residency requirement and improving relations between police officers and the community.

“At this point, I’m not sure what good those protests will do,” Edwards says. “It would be better, I think, to sit down with folks and if there is some merit to an idea that we should have some residency requirements for police officers here in Baton Rouge or elsewhere in the state then we ought to consider that.”

Edwards says police residency requirements have proven successful in some communities in the state and haven’t worked well in others. He says there is a time and place for Baton Rouge to debate that issue in depth.

“But I would hope our dialogue can be good and fruitful without protests,” he says.

—Stephanie Riegel

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