Concerns About Baton Rouge Police Pay — And Toll The Job Takes — Prompt Pay Study Agreement

As they agreed to study Baton Rouge Police Department pay and benefits, city-parish officials said Wednesday they hope the review will result in higher pay for police officers, fewer overtime hours worked and more time for police to spend with family.

BRPD starting salaries are lower than the cost of the study.

Starting pay for Baton Rouge police officers is $33,968 a year once they have completed a training academy and are six months into their job. The review of their pay, benefits, incentives and more will cost City Hall $39,500.

“This study could address our concerns and let us know what the pay should be compared to cities of our size with similar responsibilities,” said Police Chief Murphy Paul as he asked Metro Council members for their blessing on the study.

BRPD counterparts at the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office earn $38,153 a year as starting salaries, while Louisiana State Police earn $49,448 a year after they complete field officer training. New Orleans police recently received 10 percent pay raises, boosting entry-level officer pay there to $46,900 a year.

Paul said after the vote he did not want to pinpoint a specific number to target as the starting salary because he wants the study to examine if benefits for BRPD officers are more generous than those at other departments. But he did say he wants starting pay to be competitive, and noted the stresses of policing in Louisiana’s capital city.

Metro Council members asked about those stressors as they weighed whether to approve the contract with SSA Consultants for the study. Councilwoman Tara Wicker reflected on the early years of her marriage, when her husband served as a State Police trooper.

She said the long hours he worked grated on their relationship, and she asked about BRPD divorce rates. Through their church, she said, she and her husband, now a pastor, counsel a number of law enforcement officers going through similar struggles with their marriage and family.

“Our officers are often casualties,” Wicker said. “And I think we forget that.”

The BRPD union backed the pay study, and Paul credited the union with bringing up some of the points about the toll the job takes on personal lives. He said it’s a concern for all of them that police come to work healthy in mind, spirit and body.

Councilman Chandler Loupe and Councilwoman Chauna Banks also prodded Paul for answers about the overtime hours police officers can amass. City-parish salary data show that officers can earn more in overtime pay than their base salaries, with the highest earner last year collecting $61,120 in base pay and $108,117 in overtime pay. That officer worked more than 2,250 overtime hours last year.

Loupe said BRPD needs to revise its overtime policy because the department will “never get the full support you need” for raises when police officers so frequently work overtime. And Banks called it a “sweet deal” for police to accumulate base pay, overtime pay and extra duty dollars while they also use their police vehicles.

“I have police friends; they live in much nicer houses than me with RVs,” Banks said.

Paul said afterward that BRPD’s deputy chiefs are working to rein in the overtime hours that some officers work. Deputy Chief Jonny Dunnam added, though, that it’s not always feasible and gave an example of a detective with a hot lead, and said forcing the detective to stop working could endanger the case.

Though council members unanimously agreed to fund the study, several said they are concerned about whether it would translate into police pay raises. After a 2013 SSA study of City Hall employees’ salaries and benefits, the city-parish did follow through with pay raises but they were not as large as the study recommended, Banks recollected.

“We’re doing the easy part right now,” said Councilman Buddy Amoroso. “The hard part is actually funding what your research comes (up with).”

In other news, Banks urged her fellow council members to remove BREC commissioners from their jobs after repeated problems at the Baton Rouge Zoo. Banks and Keep the Zoo at Greenwood activists distributed a report from someone they identified as a whistleblower who slammed zoo management for poor animal care.

“What we did have, they gave it away because they did not want to invest properly into the zoo,” Banks claimed.

The Metro Council took no action on the discussion item, but council members did say they will review the report and are also awaiting a BREC review of the allegations.

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