Baton Rouge, La., Police use federal funds for new DNA technology

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(TNS) — A fleet of new police cruisers. Dozens of security cameras. A machine that can return DNA matches in 90 minutes.

Bursting with millions of federal dollars — mostly from a bill to help states balance budgets drained by the coronavirus-induced recession — Baton Rouge law enforcement is shelling out for new equipment, technology and training .

Expenses for the administration of Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul fall under a key item on President Joe Biden’s agenda, in which Paul has participated: a campaign that seeks the buy-in of police chiefs and local officials to spend their share of last year’s Bailout Act money to stem rising violent crime.


The lion’s share of the federal government‘s money for Baton Rouge law enforcement comes from this bill. Of a $13.3 million tranche from ARPA that the BRPD received, about $8 million paid for 200 new patrol cars, the White House said. Paul said the money will also pay for new surveillance cameras, license plate readers, training and upgrades to a nerve center where police respond to crime as it happens. occurs.

Two-and-a-half years into the East Baton Rouge homicide wave, Paul said the money is giving the department a boost as it makes improvements and tries new ways to fight crime .

“We have these economic difficulties that we were coming out of as we were getting back to some kind of normality, and having this money available was really essential,” he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Bâton Rouge, landed $687,000 in Washington for new technology that can return DNA test results in hours rather than days — something Baton officials Red are hoping they can curb a massive case freeze in Louisiana. State Police Crime Lab.

The crime lab is sitting on a backlog of 2,500 DNA cases, officials said in February. Blaming a staff exodus and high demand for safeguards, they warned it could stall a host of ongoing lawsuits. The crime lab has struggled to stay on top of DNA test requests in the past, as have law enforcement nationwide.

Using Graves’ earmarked funds, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux plans to purchase and maintain rapid DNA testing technology that could help eliminate future backlogs.

Where traditional DNA technology can take months to return suspect to suspect, rapid DNA testing allows law enforcement to insert a sample taken from a cheek swab into a machine and get a result in about 90 minutes.

The FBI has approved the technology for use in reservation areas, but it is still in its infancy as a criminal investigation tool and has yet to gain approval for use in these settings. If approved, EBRSO would run the service in partnership with the State Police Crime Lab. Other local agencies could eventually use the system for DNA cases, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

Graves said he pursued the earmarking — a type of funding request that DC lawmakers can use in the appropriations process to get money for pet projects in their home districts — after hearing persistent calls from local, state and federal cops that Louisiana’s DNA backlog was also blocking many investigations.

“I can call the state judges, I can call the Supreme Court and ask them to expedite the cases,” Graves said in an interview. “But the processing of evidence is ultimately key to moving many of these cases forward.”

Biden’s push for local agencies to use relief money for policing comes as Republicans attacked his White House as weak on law and order, amid a wave of violent crime which has engulfed the nation in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic.

This pattern took shape in early 2020 and intensified in 2021, in Baton Rouge and elsewhere, as the United States faced a roller coaster of coronavirus cases and fluctuating economic restrictions, financial difficulties persistent cases, a lagging justice system, strained community-police relations after the George Floyd murder and an ever-increasing number of pandemic deaths.

Amid this landscape, Biden has made running for local cops a key part of his criminal justice platform.

“To every governor, to every mayor, to every county official, the need is clear, my message is clear: Spend this money now,” the president told reporters at the Rose Garden this month. “Do it quickly, before the summer when crime rates typically spike.”

When unveiling the plan to tackle violent crime in 15 U.S. cities and counties, including Baton Rouge, Biden touted the collaboration but said little about why his administration chose those communities.

Baton Rouge – the second smallest jurisdiction in the lineup – has rarely seen the level of national attention received by cities like Chicago and Baltimore. But its homicide rate trends are among the highest on the list, less than a decimal place below Baltimore, the top-ranked when Biden announced the program, according to an Advocate analysis of crime data. .

Some community organizations and activists have questioned how the BRPD has spent federal money, arguing that new equipment and training do little to address poverty, which officials have repeatedly linked to the rise of gun violence in Baton Rouge.

A fleet of new police cars won’t do much to divert troubled teens in poor areas from the life of crime, for example, said Jennifer Carwile, a representative for local nonprofit Together Baton Rouge. . She said she would like to see more money spent on programming.

“If we’re going to solve our violent crime problem, we have to deal with housing, we have to deal with wages, we have to deal with youth support programs,” Carwile said.

The police department‘s overall budget for 2022 is approximately $95.9 million. In 2020, it was $77 million.

The city and parish budget increased by $50 million last year, and the biggest new expense from the general fund, which pays for most operations, was a $2.3 million increase for the city police.

The bulk of the ARPA dollars earmarked for the BRPD under the Biden partnership will pay for new police cars. Paul said the department purchased 125 marked patrol units and 40 unmarked units. Police units are supposed to be replaced every four to six years. The new vehicles will allow the department to be 80% compliant with that standard for marked vehicles and nearly 100% for unmarked vehicles, Paul said.

“Cars for days,” he said, describing the fleet of new cars lined up at BRPD headquarters on Airline Highway.

A White House fact sheet says an additional $2 million will pay BRPD to upgrade old technology. The money will fund new surveillance cameras to feed citywide footage to the department’s Real Time Crime Center, 80 new license plate readers — a tool that police say caught a driver charged with a recent hit-and-run at Central – and helicopter maintenance, says Paul.

The remaining $3.3 million will be used to fund community policing training and resources, according to the White House. Paul said that will include new training aimed at teaching officers how to work with federal and state agencies.

“We have the federal government to thank for presenting this money during difficult times,” Paul said.

© 2022 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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