The state House of Representatives is considering a bill this afternoon that aims to create a more competitive and fair process for promoting officers within the Baton Rouge Police Department.
The current promotional system is based heavily on seniority. Most open positions automatically go to the top senior officer in the department, regardless of qualifications, with the only requirement being that he or she pass a civil service exam.
“That’s not the best way to identify talent,” BRPD Chief Murphy Paul says. “No business would operate like that.”
House Bill 438—sponsored by state Rep. Ted James and supported by Paul and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome—would allow BRPD leadership to choose from among the top five most-senior officers when giving promotions. The bill only changes who is eligible for promotion, though, leaving the selection process up to department leadership.
Should the bill pass, Paul has proposed a promotional process involving an assessment board that would evaluate the top five candidates, give each a score—based on competence and leadership skills, among other things—and make a recommendation to the chief.
Paul suggests the board include one member each from the Baton Rouge Union of Police, the Magnolia Peace Officers Association and the Fraternal Order of Police, and the remaining members be from outside law enforcement agencies.
While BRPD has discussed the legislation with the union and other organizations, Paul says he has not yet spoken with them about participating in the assessment board.
“Those conversations will occur in the event the legislation advances,” he says.
One problem: Not all police organizations support the bill, even though they agree the promotion system needs reform.
“We’re against this legislation,” says Darrell Basco, state president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “While we understand there is a need for some type of improvement to a several-decades-old system, we think there will be future issues with this.”
Although the bill widens the selection pool, promotions would be decided at the discretion of the police chief, Basco says, with no safeguards in place to ensure a fair selection process.
“How is this assuring that we’re going to keep the good ol’ boy or buddy network out of it?” Basco asks. “While the administration in place now might say they won’t do that, we have to be concerned about those in charge 10 to 20 years from now.”
Basco says Paul’s proposed promotion process sounds like a “great starting point,” but it is not included in the law, which could mean that when Paul is no longer in charge, future administrations could throw it out and create their own selection process.
Talks among BRPD leadership, Basco’s group and the police union have been productive, Basco says, but he thinks more discussion is still needed. The Baton Rouge police union could not be reached for comment.
State lawmakers must approve proposed changes, which would only apply to BRPD because the promotion process of most local police departments is guided by state civil service law.