As downtown Baton Rouge evolves into a more vibrant urban center, the Police Department has tried to keep pace by promising a fully-staffed, round-the-clock precinct. They have 10 dedicated officers to the area now but are struggling to add more.
But despite the expansion of one of the city’s fastest-growing areas — the number of downtown businesses jumped 13 percent in the past year — Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. told the Downtown Development District in May that his hopes of improving the police presence in the city’s hub hasn’t panned out.
The chief said he’s had trouble hiring enough qualified officers amid the competition from other agencies and the changing views on police work to make the new precinct a reality.
The department is budgeted for 698 officers and has 31 open slots. Police expect to hire more officers by the end of the year, but they’re losing almost as many through attrition. They anticipate making a net gain of five.
The slowdown of progress at the downtown precinct is a symptom, Dabadie said, of recruitment woes facing an agency whose structure is sometimes at odds with a younger generation more accustomed to leapfrogging from job to job or to getting paid more upfront.
“Law enforcement is just not the career path that a lot of people want to choose anymore. It doesn’t pay a lot of money. There’s not a lot of glamour in it, and the scrutiny that has come on police officers in the last three to five years doesn’t help either,” Dabadie said recently.
To combat the problem, the department is launching a new recruitment push dubbed GeauxBRPD, inspired by the New Orleans Police Department’s hiring website. Last week, the Metro Council approved a $19,945 contract to fund the project, which includes publishing an interactive website for applicants and possibly creating promotional videos.