In the wake of a spike in violent crime last year amid the pandemic, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul says building trust and legitimacy in the community is one of the department’s biggest priorities.
During a lunchtime talk Wednesday to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, Paul shared some of the changes the police department has made to adapt to the pandemic.
“We didn’t realize the impact that this was going to have on policing,” says Paul, noting that the department saw escalating turf wars and increases in overdoses as the city was “shut down” and the local drug trade was disrupted. Also, as people spent more time at home, the department saw more daytime shootings, more female victims and closer ties between suspects and victims. Police-reported instances of domestic violence increased 22% last year, and some 47% of homicides happened inside a home or in a front yard.
Overall, crime dropped nearly 8% in Baton Rouge, mostly because of decreases in robberies, burglaries and larcenies. At the same time, homicides increased 46%, assaults rose 13% and reported forcible rapes increased 6%.
In response to the pandemic, 21 officers were reassigned from specialized or administrative positions to uniform patrol. Paul noted that the pay increase approved last year by the Metro Council should help increase officer retention.
The department launched a telephone reporting unit in an effort to lower social contact, where people can call the department to file reports for nonemergency situations. The department also stopped booking people in jail for most misdemeanor crimes.
While Paul noted the police department began enacting reforms following the 2016 police shooting death of Alton Sterling, he continues to support reform because police work in an ever-changing environment.
“Integrity is essential to our profession,” Paul says. “There’s no room for misinformation or lies in policing.
“One of the reasons we’re in this situation is (police’s) failure to acknowledge and confront our past. (Baton Rouge police) didn’t have to wait until George Floyd to reform. We have to look at our profession, look in the mirror and say we can do better because we are better. We have to have the uncomfortable conversations because they bring about change, understanding and healing in communities all across America.”
Paul did not address his department’s ongoing public spate with the police union.