Baton Rouge police, community college partner to focus on officer recruitment

Baton Rouge's police force had 113 vacancies last fall — the most of any point since 2015


By James Finn
The Advocate

BATON ROUGE, La. — Amid a surge in violent crime and a shortage of officers, Baton Rouge Police Department leaders are hoping local college students could be their next reinforcements.

BRPD officials joined deans from Baton Rouge Community College on Tuesday to announce a partnership between the two organizations aimed at teaching students in the school's criminal justice track about the benefits of a career in local law enforcement.

Through BRPD programs that already exist in the city like "community walks," officers will also talk with youths about benefits of going to college to help reveal options kids have beyond lives of crime.

"The goal is to increase the educational attainment of current and prospective officers, which translates to improved police and community relations," said Dr. Chandra Joseph, an interim dean of BRCC's college of business and law.

The recruiting push comes amid what BRPD chief of recruiting Sgt. Darren Ahmed called a "national recruiting crisis" in local police departments. Baton Rouge's police force had 113 vacancies last fall — the most of any point since 2015, according to data provided then by the department.

Records show there were 577 sworn BRPD officers near the end of last year — a significant decrease from prior years. That number hovered around 660 from 2015 to 2017, then gradually started declining, according to department data.

City-Parish agencies as a whole have struggled to fill vacancies amid a nationwide workforce shortage.

Police officers who've obtained a college education tend to be better communicators, are more tolerant and operate with more professionalism than peers with lower levels of education, Joseph said. She said a pipeline already exists between BRCC criminal justice students and an array of East Baton Rouge criminal justice-related offices, from the District Attorney to the Sheriff's Office.

Urgency has grown to recruit more officers as violent crime has surged.

The City-Parish logged at least 149 homicide victims in 2021, an unprecedented number of annual killings that surpassed even the record-breaking 2020 total, according to data tracked by The Advocate.

Police Chief Murphy Paul in January laid out an aggressive strategy to the Metro Council to tackle Baton Rouge's high rate of violent crime that included additional patrols and a partnership with state and federal law enforcement. For there to be enough manpower to implement the plan, the department's "No. 1 priority" is to fill at least 50 vacancies, Paul said.

"We need boots on the ground for these strategies to work," Paul said at the time. "We have to fill these vacancies."

The announcement of the new partnership followed two particularly brutal killings in the City-Parish: A 3-year-old killed by a stray bullet last week, and a woman stabbed to death on a live Facebook stream on Monday.

Schooling, jobs and community service are just a few ways young people in the City-Parish can discover lives away from crime, said Clay Young, chair of the Baton Rouge Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Foundation.

"We have to offer them options," Young said. "Getting them in school, getting them jobs."

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(c)2022 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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