MR. JACKMAN: Hello and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Tom Jackman, a criminal justice reporter with The Washington Post. It’s my pleasure today to welcome Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul in our continuing conversations about the national rise of violent crimes, protecting public safety, and the role of policing. Thank you for joining us, Chief Paul.

CHIEF PAUL: Thank you for having me today, sir.

MR. JACKMAN: All right. Well, let's go first to crime stats. Murders are up in Baton Rouge. You've had 76 so far this year. That's up a lot over last year, which was up a lot. But this is not unusual. We're seeing this around the country, right?

CHIEF PAUL: Yes, sir.

MR. JACKMAN: And so--but robbery, burglary, larceny, they're all down. Why are we shooting each other more and robbing each other less? What is causing the violence against people, in your considered opinion?

CHIEF PAUL: I think what we're experiencing here in Baton Rouge is the same that we're seeing in other parts of the country. I don't think you can contribute it to one specific issue or incident. I think it's a combination of things. You know, when we look at over a year ago when the pandemic presented change in all of our communities and the economic hardship, the stress, the anxiety, the interruption of systems, when we shut down cities, when we don't have courts, probation and parole, the abuser is trapped in the house with the abused so she won't have that outlet, or someone who's suffering from the monster called addiction, I believe all of those things created anxiety. And what it did is, is it exacerbated what we call disinvested communities. You know, crime is a socioeconomic issue. And we know that in those areas, all of those systems that I just talked about--you know, from schools, our playground--our kids were not playing on playgrounds--it's almost like we had an entire summer with the pandemic compared to some of the crime that we saw during the summer months over the years. So I believe those--that the interruption in systems has played a role in what we're experiencing.

I believe--if you look at--you know, as law enforcement, we look at trends, right? We like to look at trends. The data was different during the pandemic. We saw a closer relationship between suspects and their victims. We saw rises in domestic violence. We saw more females being victimized. So we believe there are a lot of contributing factors that played into that, also in the interruption of drug trade.

MR. JACKMAN: Well, what do you take away from--what can you guys do as police? Now I realize there are a lot of social issues we just touched on, that, you know, are mainly out of your control. But when you say--talk about the things you just talked about--domestic violence, people--you know, drugs, gangs, what can you guys do, what can the police do to attack that? And while I'm on that, you were just here in D.C., and you met with President Biden to talk about these issues. What can the feds do for local police that could really make an impact on people? So I have the follow-up question, then I've got the feds. Sorry, I chucked two at you at once.

CHIEF PAUL: Sure. One of the things we've been doing is paying attention to the data. When you look at some of the trends and exchanges in that data, we've been making those adjustments. There also have been some challenges, as you well know, across America with recruiting efforts in law enforcement, so trying to make sure that we fill those vacancies at the same time so that we can do the proactive things that we do to help prevent crime. So we've been doing that. We've been directing resources in what we call micro areas. We believe when you look at the data that crime happens in small places, not just hotspots but micro areas. And we've been directing resources in those areas. We are seeing some successes in that area. One of the big things that we've really done is engage in the community. Look, we cannot solve crimes without the community's help.

And when we look at a lot of these homicides, one of the things that we realize is that in many cases the person who committed the crime communicated his or her intentions prior to that horrific event. But they don't pick up the phone and call law enforcement. We would like them to give us a call and to stop that act from happening. So what we've been doing, we've been partnering with some of our organizations, through the mayor's office and some of the programs that she has in place so that the community can feel comfortable with preventing crime from happening, because we have too many, too many situations where when we investigated, we know that it was communicated to a loved one or someone in that person's inner circle, a friend. And they had an opportunity to do something to stop that act. So intervention is so important. So engaging the community, empowering the community to get involved to help prevent these types of crimes from happening is one thing.

What we've been doing with our federal partners is we've been partnering with our Crime Gun Intelligence Center, but we have a dedicated taskforce of individuals, along with the district attorney's office, that are following all gunshot incidents and using the intelligence, and then working out with the state and federal prosecutors to determine what the best course of action to prosecute. We're seeing some success in those categories as well with ATF. And identifying that small group of bad actors that's committing violence.

Look, just here in Baton Rouge and other cities, there's a small group of individuals that are responsible for the violent crime that we're experiencing. And it's important for us to identify who those individuals are. So the feds are helping us to that with our partnership with the FBI as well DEA, where they're focusing on those efforts without our local police officers and building federal cases to disrupt and dismantle those criminal organizations.

MR. JACKMAN: All right. Well, you talked about community trust, and so this will be a good time to raise this letter that was sent to the Justice Department last week by a number of social justice groups in Baton Rouge led by the Promise of Justice Initiative. They sent a very detailed plea to the attorney general asking for a pattern-or-practice investigation of the alleged constitutional violations in East Baton Rouge Parish. They talk about a history of seemingly racist policing, which dates to long before you became chief in 2018. But they also discussed recent events such as overly aggressive treatment of people of color, a disproportionate use of police dogs on people of color, excessive force on children. Some chiefs welcome these federal investigations, others don't. So what's your take on this call for a federal investigation of your department?

CHIEF PAUL: Well, first of all, let me say I support any help from the federal government to help us, but we've been doing that. If you look at most of the data that's presented in that report and you look at the changes that we have made as an organization, I believe that we are in a direction--we've been getting technical assistance and training through our National Public Safety Partnership. If you look at many of the laws that not only have been passed here in the City of Baton Rouge but in many communities all across America since the George Floyd incident, we've already implemented those changes prior to that incident happening.

So I believe that we are moving forward. When you look at the data, the data is showing that the community is working side by side with us. We're engaging them in helping us not only change policy, create policy but also engaging them in public expectations on how we should police. So I think when you really look at some of the work that we've done over the past couple of years, you know, we see some success. I do understand that we haven't met everybody's expectations, but I would love to sit down and meet with those organizations. I know I asked my lieutenant to arrange those meetings so I can show them all the process that has been done.

You know, we still have work to go--a lot of work to do. But we have made so many changes, particularly the changes we made when you speak of the use of canines. Those numbers are down significantly since we made those changes, and the data shows that the change in policy has had a significant impact on some of the issues that were presented in their letter.

MR. JACKMAN: Well, so, does that mean you're opposed to the feds coming in?

CHIEF PAUL: Oh, no, I'm never--I'm never opposed to any help from the federal government. The question is do I think we're moving in the right direction. I think if that was to happen and they'll sit down and see what we've done in the past couple of years, you'll see that many of the changes that they desire, that they're asking for are meeting expectations. And we've been very consistent. We've been very deliberate in our efforts to change behavior. And we are seeing success in those categories. And I would be willing to sit down and have those conversations with those organizations. There was no meeting between me and them prior to that letter going off. But I think if they will engage and sit down and see all the great work that we're doing here in the Baton Rouge Police Department, they will see progress.

MR. JACKMAN: Do you feel like your officers are being held accountable when they do things wrong? That seems to be a major complaint here, is that officers aren't being held accountable. I know that in some instances you've tried to hold officers accountable and have gotten serious pushback from the union. But one social justice leader said in the paper the other day that your department has turned a blind eye to systemic failure and weaponized the police department against our community. So are you holding your officers accountable?

CHIEF PAUL: Yeah, absolutely. I totally disagree with that statement. If you look at since we've been here, we have been holding officers accountable. And we also have been supporting those officers who've made a mistake but we believe can still effectively do their job. You know, not only have we held those officers accountable, we've arrested officers. You know, we have a current investigation that's going on that is worked by the Baton Rouge Police Department, where we've arrested several of our narcotics agents who don't deserve to wear that badge. That investigation is being conducted by Baton Rouge police officers. And we're going to continue to hold any others accountable. But I really don't believe that those officers that we arrested and those that have been terminated as well--several have been terminated as a result of our investigation--but I still don't believe that they represent all the men and women in the Baton Rouge Police Department.

You know, we have great public servants here. We've consistently shown that in order to change behavior, that discipline has to be implemented. And we've done that. You know, we've had several high-profile cases recently where we've terminated an officer and the Civil Service Board has overturned my decision. We had another incident recently. But we're going to continue to move forward to change that culture. And let me be clear. It's not all the men and women in the Baton Rouge Police Department. It's a very few. And those few officers, we have held them accountable, but they don't represent the good men and women of this police department who go out there and serve this community every day.

MR. JACKMAN: So where do you think--what motivates these--this complaint. This is a pretty significant complain that was sent to the Justice Department. What's behind this, or have these folks just not connected with you, or what's your thinking on where this complaint comes from?

CHIEF PAUL: Sir, I've received no phone call from anyone. I have public meetings every quarter with our Chief's Advisory Council, where we go over policy. In fact, in those meetings we've had conversations in our Chief's Advisory Council meetings that actually lead to recommendations that go to my policy review committee, and we actually change policy. And I can go over so many policies that have been changed in this police department have started with community conversations. And we were able to make those policy changes without compromising officer safety. I would be more than willing to sit down with those organizations and go over everything that we've done in the past few years.

But to say that we have not held police officers accountable is just not the case. Simple research on how many officers that don't deserve to wear that badge who we've terminated or who've quit while under investigation over the past couple years will show that we take our policies very seriously here in the police department. And there has been a lot of accountability. So I'm not sure specifically where they're getting their data from, but I would be more than happy to share factual data with those organizations.

MR. JACKMAN: When you talk about rewriting policies, one of the policies that was rewritten after Alton Sterling's death was to emphasize de-escalation and reducing use of force. Chokeholds were banned. Firing into vehicles unless there was an imminent threat was banned. Have you seen an impact from that? What's been the effect of changing that policy?

CHIEF PAUL: Yeah, sure. Our procedure justice training has been implemented where we focus on those four tenets of voice, fairness, transparency, and police encounters. We have probably--our body camera program, when you look at our body camera program, it exceeds Department of Justice recommendations.

So we've implemented a lot of changes in the past few years, the duty to intervene, not just in training but in mandatory reporting requirements. When you see another officer violating police, that duty to intervene when excessive force is being used and the reporting requirement as well. We're starting to see that--those changes. And one of the things I use to gauge that is the community. And I can tell you when I'm out in the community and I have conversations with the residents of this community, they see the change. I hear from them all the time that they like the direction that the Baton Rouge Police Department is going. So this disconnect in some of those--that's highlighted in some of the letters, I think that I can give them a whole list of people in the Baton Rouge community who love the Baton Rouge Police Department. I hear it every day. I get emails. I get calls from our residents. Some of our police officers can't even pay for a meal. You hear them going to restaurants and say they get up and their bill is paid for.

Now, look, let me be clear. I do understand that there are some within the community who may not have a favorable opinion of the men and women who wear this uniform. But I can tell you that is not the masses. We have surveys that show that. We have community events. You know, the last couple years before COVID, we participated in more than 300 community events here in the City of Baton Rouge. And in those community events when we're engaging the public and it's based on a positive stimulus and we're not responding to a call for service, we have conversations, we actually get information from them about crime. And I can tell you, you know, we've got some great things. I do understand that there's some who may not necessarily see it, who don't live in this community. But I would be more than happy to do ride-alongs with them. Come to these community events. Join us in our quarterly Chief's Advisory Council where we have representation from all parts of the community--from the faith-based community, elected officials, as well as to high education institutions, LSU, Southern University, and Baton Rouge Community College--and you will hear the interaction. You will hear this collective approach where we are not only engaging the community, we're actively listening, and we're making those changes that need to be made to break down those barriers in community police relations.

MR. JACKMAN: So here's a problem that police chiefs around the country have been having. How are you dealing with concerns around morale of officers and retention of officers?

CHIEF PAUL: Yeah, you know, that has been a challenge. I believe PERF put out a report more than 40 percent increase in 2020 in resignations in law enforcement agencies and more than 16 percent increase in retirements or early retirements. I think what we're experiencing is, you know, the social media has made the world so small, right? So it doesn't matter where something happens, if it's in Minnesota, if it's in some other city, it makes its way to my front door and the front door of every chief of police in the United States and in every community. And what that does is, it agitates scars.

I believe if you look at what happened here in 2016 and where we are today in 2021, you know, some of the individuals and some of the groups who are protesting against us, some who were marching for reform, are now standing side by side with us at press conferences, are standing side by side when I do press conferences and I ask the community for help to identify those bad actors who are committing crime here. So we have come a long way. That collective healing started. You know, we were the recipients of a grant called Collective Healing through the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and we partnered with local organizations and our higher education institutions, and we began to have those conversations, those uncomfortable conversations about policing here in the City of Baton Rouge. And we have come a long way. I believe that's why when you see what happened in other communities, where there was civil unrest, we didn't have that here in the City of Baton Rouge. Were there citizens who were upset? Absolutely. Were there concerns? Yes. But you know what, we worked with them so they can exercise their rights to march. But we did it in a peaceful way. And we continue to work with those individuals. But there have been no civil unrest here. And we're going to continue to pray that it doesn't happen and that we continue to build down those barriers.

But we've had a police academy class every year. And let me say this. I am thankful for the president and the comprehensive strategy that he's put together to reduce violence in the country. In particular, you know, giving us flexibility in how to use those dollars, because recruitment and retention is so important. You know, we've dedicated full-time police officers in our peer-to-peer so that we can create an environment where our police officers feel safe, to know that they need a timeout. I understand that it's a very stressful environment that we're working in right now, and we want to get them the help that they need, because we want them mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy so that they can go out there and serve. And we've been doing that here in the Baton Rouge Police Department.

But the flexibility that has been given to us through the president has really allowed us to be more creative in how we recruit. We're actually meeting with some local organizers to help us do that as well. We've been fortunate to have an academy class. Our turnover ratio was about 6.6 last year, 6.8. And right now we are looking at about a 6.8 to 7 percent turnover ratio this year. So we have been fortunate here in the City of Baton Rouge to have academies. They may not be as large as we would like them, but we've been consistently hiring police officers.

MR. JACKMAN: Speaking of COVID, we saw an interesting thing that you guys are getting a lot of 911 calls from people wanting to get COVID tests or vaccine. A lot of 911 calls, possibly stressing your ability to respond to other calls. What's going on with people calling 911 about COVID?

CHIEF PAUL: Well, you know, I think the numbers are what they are. And I think--you know, I talked earlier about the fear, the anxiety that COVID has presented in this community. And I lost my father to COVID last year. So I understand. And I don't think I've spoken with anyone who hasn't lost a loved one, a friend or someone to COVID. And we know that there's a lot of fear. And when someone calls 911, that's fear. That's why education and awareness is so important.

And I applaud our governor and our mayor, who've been very proactive since last year, getting in front, of a lot of the misinformation that's been pushed out there about COVID. Look, we lost an officer yesterday. Just put out one of our lieutenants. He just retired, just retired. And now his family and our Baton Rouge police family are now, you know, going to be working with the family for his services. Didn't even get an opportunity to enjoy his retirement.

But this COVID is real. That's why we need people to get vaccinated. We need everybody just to really listen to the experts and what they're saying. We do not need to go back to where we were last year with this virus. And that's why getting vaccinated is so important.

MR. JACKMAN: Have you considered--my condolences, by the way, about your officer and your father. Have you considered requiring your department to get vaccinated, everybody?

CHIEF PAUL: You know, we talked about that. We actually talked about it yesterday when we were having a conversation about--my conversation with our lieutenant's son. And you know, when you hear a grieving son who, you know, his father was everything to him, and you start thinking about those on the job who have not been vaccinated, my prayer and hope is that they will take notice to that and that they wouldn't have to hear the chief mandate that, that they will see that it is the right thing to do. This is the second officer we lost. We lost one of our sergeants to COVID from an on-the-job exposure. And just a pain to go through that process to see one of our heroes die. And to go through that again, it's emotional.

MR. JACKMAN: Well, that is indeed. I'm really sorry to hear all of that. And unfortunately, that's all the time we have today. Thank you, Chief Paul, very much for speaking with me. We really appreciate it.

CHIEF PAUL: No, thank you. Thank you for having me.

MR. JACKMAN: Thank you. Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you there.

CHIEF PAUL: No, thank you for having me. And God bless you.

MR. JACKMAN: Thank you. And thank you, audience of The Washington Post, for joining us today. You can always head to wWshingtonPostLive.com to register and find more information about upcoming programs. I’m Tom Jackman. Thanks for watching Washington Post Live.

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