By Adam Thorp
The Louisiana Police Department plans to pick areas of special safety concern for ramped-up traffic enforcement. In those areas, officers will be told to ticket everybody they pull over for a violation.
That’s one of several steps the police department is taking to make its limited resources work for the City of Louisiana according to Police Chief April Epperson. Several weeks ago Epperson received a consultant’s report looking at her department, which recommended, among other things, a more consistent and targeted approach to traffic safety enforcement. Last week Epperson sat down with the Louisiana Press-Journal to discuss the report and the state of the department as it adjusts to a tightening budget.
The department currently consists of three patrol officers, a sergeant and Epperson. Two previously open positions have been left unfilled to accommodate a hole in the city’s budget, and Epperson has been asked to cut down on the overtime the department had been relying upon in the meantime.
The department is exploring different approaches to this scheduling puzzle. Epperson said that this could sometimes mean more time between a call to the police and the arrival of an officer.
“A person could potentially have an increased response time from an officer. From three to five minutes it could be 15 minutes,” Epperson said. “I think that’s probably something that the public should know. We’re going to do our best to not make that happen, but the police department and myself also have to fall in line with the cards were being dealt by the city.”
Epperson may have to hit the streets as a “working chief” to fill the gaps. That would bring her away from her administrative duties as chief.
“Its more juggling, time-management to stay on top of things,” Epperson said. “In the past, important administrative [duties] were falling behind [when the department had a working chief]. We’re going to try to balance it.”
In the part of the report dedicated to exploring the collapse in city revenue from fines and fees issued by the police department, the report’s author, Joel Shults, cautioned that any decisions about traffic enforcement should hinge on a public safety rationale. Shults recommended that the department look at standardizing the officer responses to violations — an approach the department is looking to adopt.
The department plans to pick areas of special concern for more stringent enforcement.
“Certain areas, you stop somebody, they get a ticket. There’s no discretion by the officer,” Epperson said.
The department also plans to try to balance the proportion of warnings and tickets issued by officers and to participate in traffic safety grant programs. The programs, which the LPD has participated in in the past, subsidizes the department’s participation in intermittent state-wide campaigns — for seat-belt safety or against drunk driving, to give two examples.
The report was personally complimentary of Epperson, praising her handling of the department during a difficult period.
“This profession, it’s a rough profession, it’s very stressful. Some days it’s a struggle, just like any other job,” Epperson said. “We all know it’s been an up-or-down cycle here, not by our choices… I stepped in in a time of need, trying to make the flame lower as we went.”
“Its been an eye-opener, to say the least,” Epperson added.