Baton Rouge police chief takes aim at union

BATON ROUGE, LA &#8211 Police Chief Dewayne White took aim at the Baton Rouge Union of Police Local 237 Wednesday, saying it is his biggest obstacle to making systematic changes to the Police Department.

The chief told those attending the Baton Rouge Rotary Club’s weekly luncheon that he spends too much of his time dealing with “pointless” grievances, many of which are about personnel issues, such as job transfers.

“I believe you have lost your focus,” White said, referring to the union, of which he and 92 percent of the police force are members. He said the union’s purpose is to look out for the benefits and wages of officers, not to challenge his personnel decisions.

The union, the chief added in an interview after the luncheon, is “putting emphasis on things that have no bearing on the quality of the lives of their constituency” and defends officers regardless of how petty their complaints are.

The union’s actions, White said, are making it difficult for him to make changes within the department and are hindering his effectiveness as chief.

The union’s attorney, Charles Dirks, did not attend Wednesday’s luncheon but listened to a recording of the chief’s comments and said afterward that he was upset, frustrated and “thoroughly disappointed.”

“For anyone to insinuate that my client doesn’t want a productive police department is not providing all of the information about what these things are about,” Dirks said. “The grievances we filed dealt with issues about whether or not this administration has treated our officers in a fair and impartial manner.”

More specifically, he said, the grievances were about White’s administration holding members of the police force to different standards or to no standard at all.

“The working environment that they (officers) come to every day needs to be one where they feel comfortable,” Dirks said. “They need to feel they aren’t going to be singled out for any reason or for no reason, or that if some rule is going to be applied to them that it’s going to be applied to everyone else in the Police Department.”

Dirks said the union has tried to work with White since he was appointed chief almost a year ago and that he thought the parties had agreed to not air out their differences in public.

“To the best of my recollection, we’ve never had a chief of police make any negative comments about our working relationship in public,” he said. “We’ve (the union and previous chiefs of police) always had an agreement that we are going to keep our disagreements inhouse.”

Tensions between the union and White started to run high in October when the chief, speaking on the “Baton Rouge’s Morning News with Clay Young and Kevin Meeks” show on WJBO radio, said he has some officers so accustomed to dealing with criminals who are black that it “becomes ingrained … that most people (the officers) come across with that color of skin are probably criminals.”

White also said while 90 percent of his force exercises professionalism in their duties, 10 percent of his officers “want to do things their own way.”

President of the Baton Rouge Union of Police Local 237 Cpl. Chris Stewart fired back days later on the same radio show saying the chief’s comments were unfair and inaccurate.

He said the Police Department is a nationally accredited, flagship department, and “to paint us in any other light is offensive.”

White brought up the issue again at Wednesday’s Rotary luncheon when he read a letter he said he received from an anonymous black Baton Rouge officer.

“I cheered when you went public and mentioned the racial problems we have in this department,” White read from the letter. “Although I feel the percentage is much higher than 10 percent, it was a blessing to me to hear you address the matter.”

“Sitting back and saying nothing achieves nothing,” White said. “You have to take a stance.”

Dirks said the union “will not tolerate anybody providing law enforcement services in a racially biased or otherwise discriminatory manner” and that the union has offered its services to the chief to combat such behavior.

However, he said, “we have not been provided one name, one incident, anything” regarding such allegations.

From The Advocate.

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