Central OKs reserve force

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The City Council unanimously approved a reserve volunteer police force for the city earlier this week, nearly a year after it rejected a similar plan over budget restraints.

Central Police Chief Doug Browning is Central’s only full-time police officer, and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office is the primary law enforcement agency in the city.

The Sheriff’s Office has five officers per shift at its substation in Central, but they also patrol areas outside the city. The city also hires off-duty deputies to patrol in city subdivisions.

Browning has been pushing the City Council for a handful of reserve officers for more than a year. He said the city needs to take the first step toward its own police force and put more officers on the street to deter crime.

“It will give us the opportunity to back up and pay back the sheriff for what he’s been doing for us,” Browning said Tuesday of the reserve force.

The City Council recently approved a budget with $4,500 for a reserve police force and more fuel money for extra patrols. Tuesday’s vote allows Browning to hire the five volunteer officers.

The city will pay insurance and transportation costs for the reserves, who must be certified law enforcement officers. The five deputies will spend 20 hours a week each patrolling. The department already has two donated patrol cars.

The sponsor of the ordinance, Councilman Ralph Washington, said Sheriff Sid Gautreaux told him the city needed to start working toward its own police force. He said Gautreaux has offered to help train officers.

The City Council last year rejected a similar request by Browning.

But Mayor Mac Watts said that vote was only a reaction to the city’s tight budget at the time. Since it took over services from the city-parish government this year, Central now receives the tax revenue collected in the city.

“Now that we’re taking over all services and we have a little more money in the bank, I think everyone will be behind you 100 percent,” Watts told Browning.

Councilman Louis Dejohn said he supported the reserve force but was concerned about covering the cost of a full police force in the future.

He said when they formed the city, officials were under the impression that the Sheriff’s Office would continue to provide law enforcement in Central.

“The reality is we convinced a lot of people that we wouldn’t pass additional taxes,” he said.