The Together Baton Rouge Criminal Justice Action Team (CJAT) formed after Alton Sterling was killed in 2016. A group of TBR members were disturbed by the actions that we saw all across the country by police that summer, and we wanted to see how we could bring about change here at home. We researched use of force best practices and encouraged Mayor Broome to include items like De-escalation and Racial Bias training. In 2018, most of the best practices that we recommended were implemented into BRPD policy.
While listening to stories at House Meetings for the past few years, several themes arose in regards to criminal justice issues:
- Disparate treatment of races and socioeconomic groups throughout the criminal justice system
- Concerns about accountability and transparency with the police
- Need for improved Community/Police relations
After listening to stories and researching the issues, we have determined that there are several areas that we can work in to push for systemic change. Our team is currently conducting research, which includes examining the issues in Baton Rouge, looking at best practices and how other communities have handled these issues, and meeting with key players including the District Attorney, Public Defender, Metro Council members, etc. Our current working groups are:
Bail Reform/Disparate Treatment: Many of the folks who spend time in jail are not those convicted of a crime, but the poor who can not afford to bond out before trial. Long pre-trial detention disrupts jobs and families. We are researching alternatives to cash bail for non-violent offenses. We are also developing relationships with key players in the system to make policy changes.
Funding Parity between the DA and OPD: The Public Defender (OPD) represents 85% of the cases brought by the District Attorney (DA) in Baton Rouge while operating on a fraction of the DA's budget. This leads to large case loads for public defenders and long wait times for people in prison waiting on defense. Many people plead guilty simply to get out of prison as a result of this, which can affect their ability to get a job, housing, etc. We are researching how other cities changed their funding and developing a proposal for funding parity in Baton Rouge.
Mental Health and Social Services: There are many avenues where social services are needed in our community. Police are often the primary responders to complaints involving those with mental health or drug issues, and East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is the destination for folks involved in those incidents. From the police to the OPD, there is a clear need for social services at every level. This working group is currently determining how to best advocate for changes.
Civilian Oversight: Accountability and Transparency for Police The system of oversight for BRPD is currently internal--it works like this:
- Citizen makes a complaint to BRPD about an encounter with an officer, either anonymously or identified.
- Internal Affairs investigates the complaint by reviewing body camera footage, interviews, etc.
- Internal Affairs determines if discipline or remediation of officer is necessary. (BRPD will advise the citizen of actions taken if the citizen identified themselves in the complaint.)
- Officer can dispute the action by appealing to the Municipal Police and Fire Board.
- The Municipal Police and Fire Board either upholds or overturns the disciplinary action.
In this chain of events, Internal Affairs (the police) investigate and discipline themselves. There is no real way for the public to know how problems are investigated or if appropriate actions are taken to remedy problems. Also, there is nowhere for a citizen to go if they disagree with the resolution of a complaint. If the officer disagrees with disciplinary action, they can appeal to the Municipal Police and Fire Board.
Civilian Oversight of law enforcement addresses accountability and transparency by monitoring the way investigations are handled and creating policy. This team is researching the various forms of Civilian Oversight, collecting community input, and advocating for the implementation of civilian oversight for Baton Rouge.
We are excited to be working in areas so that can make concrete, systemic changes! If you are interested to participate in one or more of these working groups, please contact co-chairs Jennifer Carwile and Abel Thompson at [email protected] to get involved.