The Port Allen Police Department has been “one of the most successful in America” despite challenges, Port Allen Police Chief Esdron Brown told the Public Safety Committee during its Wednesday, May 2 meeting. Not all City Council members agree with Brown, though.
The concerns Councilman Gary Hubble voiced regarding turnover in 2015 returned at the committee meeting. The 2015 concerns arose after 16 officers were hired and 11 resigned soon after.
Half of the 28 officers hired have been fired, quit or retired since Brown became Chief of Police in January of 2013, according to data from the department.
“I’m beginning to wonder if we should make hiring officers a regular agenda item,” Hubble said at the committee meeting.
High turnover is not uncommon in small departments, Brown said, citing conversations with police chiefs from surrounding areas. Zachary, Baker, St. Gabriel, East Baton Rouge and New Roads all have a shortage of officers, Brown told the council in a prepared statement.
“Other places don’t matter to me,” Hubble said. “I have to be concerned about Port Allen.”
Brown blames health insurance costs, outdated vehicles, tough hours, a lack of specialized training and lack of mobility within the department for the diminished morale and high turnover. All of which are up to the discretion of the Council to change via the budget he said.
“We get no new cars, no pay raises, no insurance and then wonder why we can’t keep officers,” Brown said.
In recent years, the police department has received 15 patrol cars. Brown asked the Council to consider his request for one vehicle in next year’s budget, as Mayor Richard Lee would not include it in the first draft he said. One car would complete his goal of an updated fleet, he said at the council meeting.
Brown suggested buying a patrol vehicle instead of the $70,000 equipment wash rack proposed in the budget. The wash station would be used by the sewer, water and gas, maintenance, and police departments.
Council members Hubble and Riviere were opposed to the washing rack. Both said the maintenance of squad cars should be a part of an officers job. Hubble suggested adding non-mechanical vehicle upkeep to the job description of officers. Mayor Lee said officers should be given facilities along with expectations.
Council members also expressed concern over the amount of required weapon training at the regular meeting on Wednesday, May 9. Brown said to require additional training would require extra pay. However, individual departments can require officers to take the police pistol qualification test several times per year without increasing pay.
Councilman Riviere said it is not the Council’s responsibility to deal with day-to-day operations of the police department.
“The Police Chief is paid to run the department,” Riviere said at the committee meeting.
Hubble requested to have officers speak to the Council about their experience since the only time the council hears from officers is during a disciplinary action appeal. Officers don’t always claim pay to be the problem, Hubble said.
The council unanimously approved Brown’s request to advertise for and hire two additional officers. Hubble prefaced his vote of approval with a promise to continue pursuing the high turnover problem in PAPD.