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Baton Rouge, La., Turns to Community to Fund Law Enforcement Tech

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation is trying to raise the money needed to purchase gunshot detection software, while similar efforts are focusing on license plate readers and surveillance cameras.

by Emma Discher, The Advocate / March 7, 2018

(TNS) — The Baton Rouge Area Foundation has publicly launched a fundraiser for additional crime-fighting equipment for Baton Rouge police and East Baton Rouge sheriff's deputies.

The initiative is through a crowd-funding website, which opened Tuesday with $50,000 already donated for equipment such as license plate cameras and equipment that detect gunshots.

BRAF set a $1 million goal for the EBR Law Enforcement Fund, the new charitable fund to which donations are tax-deductible. Part of that money could go towards fulfilling some of BRPD Chief Murphy Paul's technology plan, which includes new license plate readers and greater ShotSpotter coverage, and would cost upwards of $6,500,000.

Baton Rouge police and parish sheriff's deputies already use license plate readers and ShotSpotter technology, but fundraising organizers say the law enforcement agencies need to "cover more areas that are vulnerable to crime." ShotSpotters detect the sound of gunshots and locate the area of origin, which it then shares with law enforcement officers.

"Lawbreakers shoot guns and commit crimes with impunity in EBR," the website for the fundraiser reads. "They know the cops don’t have enough equipment to respond quickly."

While BRAF is managing the fundraising, organizers will consult with the sheriff's office, police department and district attorney's office to issue grants.

The new fund comes on the heels of a separate $540,000 pledge from business developer Mike Wampold, Jim Bernhard, BRAF and BRAC for a group-violence prevention program, which could pick up where the BRAVE program left off.

According to the State of Crime report written by Paul, license plate readers would cost the police department $15,000 each while crime cameras would cost $7,000 each.

Paul said in the report that he hopes to invest in 45 new license plate readers and 75 new crime cameras while also doubling the current coverage of ShotSpotter technology, which would cost $250,000. The price tag for completing all three goals would be $1,450,000.

The three technologies are part of a greater plan for the department to create and open a Baton Rouge Real-Time Crime Center. Officers would work with the district attorney's Crime Strategies Unit, LSU and the city of Baton Rouge information services at the center to provide real-time data to all department operations.

It's estimated that building the center within the current headquarters building would cost between $975,000 and $1,500,000 while it will cost another $50,000 for a shared video server, according to Paul's report.

As part of the technology plan, Paul also noted that the department's current radio system is outdated and needs replacing at a cost of $3,500,000 for 700 portable radios.

Paul, District Attorney Hillar Moore III, and East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux met privately Friday with members of BRAF and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber to present the 80-plus page "State of Crime" report on their needs and desires for law enforcement in the parish. The report includes smaller proposals like more crime technology, but also pricier pitches like a new jail, juvenile complex and a mental health center.

While BRAF President and CEO John Davies said Friday it's not possible for private dollars to fund big infrastructure investments that criminal justice leaders want, like a new jail, he said they could help fill in gaps elsewhere.

“If you need to have license plate readers, if you need to have ShotSpotters … there is a price to that. It’s kind of semi-reasonable,” Davies said. “It is a capital expense you think that … the city needs to come up with, but the private sector can do that. Philanthropy can help.”

Moore said he wants to sell the criminal justice system's needs to not only the business community, but also individual citizens, in order to kick-start some of these projects.

"We're always are looking for grants to ease the finances for us in the city, but eventually the city and parish have to find ways to fund (it)," Moore said. "The problem we’re seeing all around the country is some cities just aren't able to do that … but crime is the one thing that impacts everyone across the board."

©2018 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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