BRPD chief’s one-on-one interview with UWK: “BR is a safe place”

BATON ROUGE — New Baton Rouge Police Chief Thomas Morse Jr. said the rate of violent crimes has been trending down, but there is one thing that has been a deadly thorn in law enforcement’s side – fentanyl.

“I was actually shocked. I didn’t realize the numbers were what they were,” Morse said. “I got in this position, getting the briefings and the emails, you’re looking at our homicides, triple that, and that is just deaths from overdoses. Not to mention the overdoses that we respond to where people survived, that is going to be a lot of working together with our community partners.”

Chief Morse spoke one-on-one with UWK about any and all issues plaguing the city.

MORE FROM UNFILTERED WITH KIRAN: Murder rate down, fentanyl overdoses triple

The chief said the department partnered with Peers on Point in 2023 to help deal with overdose situations. He said BRPD dispatch calls the Peers on Point organization, and community members respond to the calls to talk to the overdose victims and their families to get the resources they need.

“We’ve done a good job, equipping our officers, retraining them all in CPR, equipping them with Narcan,” Morse said. “So when they are the first ones on the scene, they can administer Narcan, which makes all the difference when you’re talking about fentanyl, especially in those cases, which is a very, very deadly and dangerous drug.”

On the enforcement side, Morse said officers are assigned to a DEA task force. When the task force responds to overdose calls, they look at technology to trace where the drugs were bought from, all the way back to the supplier, so that an arrest can be made.

Free cameras to the public to help with investigations

Through the Page/Rice camera initiative, security cameras will be installed in select homes and businesses to help battle violent crime.

The initiative is in memory of Devin Page Jr. and Allie Rice, who both died from gun violence. Morse said he expects 100 more cameras installed in his first 100 days.

“It’s going to be very easy for the community to sign up and get free cameras that they’ll be able to place on their homes and businesses that the police department will also have access to,” he said. “It’s not a camera to get people red light tickets, or speeding cameras or anything. That is strictly for crime investigation purposes.”

He said he wants to have the cameras up anywhere. Businesses that already have cameras can give BRPD access to them. Any homeowner or business owner who wants the cameras will get them for free.

Bait Car Program

The new chief said he’d like to see some older programs revived, such as the bait car program.

In 2009, authorities partnered with insurance companies to start a statewide program. The program was aimed at reducing vehicle theft. 

The insurance companies donated vehicles with digital, video, and audio recording devices, GPS tracking, remote door locking, and engine shutoff capabilities.

Law enforcement could stop the bait vehicle and make arrests when the system was activated.

The technique brought controversy because of concerns about the potential for entrapment. The NOPD received backlash in 2009 for leaving bait cars loaded with beer, cigarettes, and candy near a homeless encampment, allegedly tempting those to commit burglaries.

“Just speaking personally, I caught many vehicle burglars with that program,” he reflected. “During my time in the first district, the 12 years that I did on the streets, I found the program to be very successful. I said this in the past: I don’t see why a citizen in Baton Rouge should not be able to leave their car unlocked in their driveway and have any fear of somebody breaking into it. You should be able to walk into a gas station to get a drink, and when you come back, your car should still be there or not be broken into.”

He said a high percentage of stolen guns comes from people’s cars, so the bait car program could help decrease other serious crimes.

“If we can use a program like the bait car where we’re getting those, not at our own dime, it’s cooperation and grant money with insurance companies and other programs, I think that would be a win,” he said.

MORE FROM UNFILTERED WITH KIRAN: Morse named next police chief

Transparency and Trust

During the interview process for chief, Morse said transparency was a big part of his plan to address the challenges involving officers being charged with crimes, including sexual assault and domestic violence.

He said he believes in complete transparency, which also involves highlighting the good that his officers do.

“Most of the time, when we talk about transparency, we talk about the negative side, which we are going to be transparent in that when our officers do wrong, we need to be the first one to stand up and say, ‘We did this wrong’,” he said. “Not only did we do it wrong, this is how we’re going to hold them accountable. These are the lessons we learned; this is how we will ensure we don’t repeat that in the future. But we also are going to be transparent when we do things right. And we’re going to highlight those officers.”

He said it is essential to hold officers accountable when things are done wrong, highlight them, and give them the recognition they deserve when they do things right.

Morse said he understands actions speak louder than words when it comes to trust from the community, but he said all he is asking for is a chance.

“I just ask, give us a chance,” he stated. “Give us a chance to earn that trust back and build those bridges. I want the community to know that 99 percent of the officers are doing a wonderful job as criminal justice professionals for the past seven and a half years I’ve trained them to be. I want the community to see that as well.”

MORE FROM UNFILTERED WITH KIRAN: Chief outlines first 100 days

The chief said some things he’d like to see highlighted more are the life-saving measures, which include the use of Narcan, tourniquets, chest seals, and more.

Before he became chief, Morse served as the commander of training services, overseeing the training academy, recruiting, and the firearms training unit.

Morse said the department is taking applications for the Citizens’ Academy, which gives the community a behind-the-scenes look at BRPD. Participants can get some the same training as BRPD officers, and gives people a better understanding of what it means to be a BRPD officer.

Morse said there is a fear from people “talking in chat groups and social media,” and certain things have blown up, but he wants to reassure the community that the city is safe even though it is not without its share of issues.

“Baton Rouge is a safe place,” he said. “We have our issues just like other cities and other places across the country, but it is a safe place.”

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