Lafayette Civil Service Board Member Resigns In Flap Over Police Chief Qualifications

A member of the Lafayette Fire and Police Civil Service Board has resigned in the political fallout over the board’s decision last month to not relax a requirement that Lafayette’s next police chief have a four-year degree.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette sociology professor Craig Forsyth, who has served on the board for six years, confirmed Tuesday he has stepped down from the volunteer position.

His decision came after Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who supports allowing extensive experience in lieu of a four-year degree, questioned whether Forsyth and fellow board member Ralph Peters, a former Lafayette police officer and now a professor at Northwestern State University, could legally serve.

Boudreaux cited state law and attorney generals opinions in arguing that university employees are barred from service.

Forsyth said he decided to resign after reviewing documents provided by Boudreaux.

But the professor also questioned why the issue never surfaced in his six years on the board, considering the council had to sign off on his appointment.

“It’s amazing that no one said anything until now,” Forsyth said.

City-Parish President Joel Robideaux, who took office in January, has pushed to allow chief applicants to have law enforcement experience plus a mix of college credit or a two-year degree in lieu of a bachelor’s degree.

He argues that allowing exceptions to the four-year degree requirement would open the position up to a more diverse pool of applicants as he works to replace former Police Chief Jim Craft, who retired earlier this year.

The request would have allowed the man Robideaux appointed as interim chief, Reginald Thomas, to qualify to serve as the permanent chief.

Thomas, who is interested in the job, does not have a four-year college degree, but he does have an associate degree in criminal justice and 25 years of experience at the department.

The board opted to take no action on Robideaux’s request last month, instead proposing a variation of the current qualifications and keeping the bachelor’s degree requirement in place.

Forsyth noted he was actually the lone dissenting vote on that proposal. Peters, who made the proposal that keeps the degree requirement in place, remained on the board as of Tuesday.

The proposed chief requirements could be finalized at a civil service meeting set for May 18.

Besides questioning whether Forsyth and Peters can legally serve, Boudreaux has said he would consider filing a federal discrimination complaint over the chief requirements, arguing they could hold back minority candidates who might not have had the opportunity to pursue a four-year degree.

Boudreaux said relaxing the degree requirement would allow not only Thomas, who is black, but other minority officers a chance to at least apply for the chief’s job.

Robideaux had proposed three new tiers of chief qualifications: allowing applicants to have a bachelor’s degree plus 15 years of law enforcement experience; an associate degree or 69 hours of college coursework plus 20 years’ experience; or a high school diploma with some college coursework and 25 years of experience.

The Police Association of Lafayette, an officer group, supported the first two tiers but took no stance on the third tier.

The Office of State Examiner, which advises and works with local civil service boards on job classifications and testing, had also recommended relaxing the bachelor’s degree requirement and allowing applicants to have a two-year degree or a high school diploma if the lack of a four-year degree was offset with greater experience.

From The Advocate