In the July 30 edition of the Bastrop Daily Enterprise, Bastrop Police Chief Downey Black and Mayor Arthur E. Jones discussed a lack of personnel within the Bastrop Police Department after multiple citizens contacted the paper concerned about the direction of the department.
Since then, the three officers who left the department discussed leaving the BPD with the Enterprise.
While all had served past their initial two years of required service, other issues, including family, compensation and overall morale at the police department, particularly since Black was put on night duty, played a role in their decision to leave.
"I left for my family," Eric Newnum said. Newnum originally went to work with the BPD in January 2003 and then worked in Sterlington from 2006 to 2009. In May 2009, he returned to the department until he quit, as a detective, for personal reasons.
Newnum said he and his wife had previously discussed his leaving the department but that the internal conflict between the department and the mayor's office made it easy to leave.
"[There was] so much crap everyday....something new between the chief's office and the mayor's office," Newnum said."The icing on the cake was putting the chief on nights indefinitely. I've never heard of that in my 11 years."
Jones called Black's reassignment a “personnel matter” when asked if recent incidents, including one in which a Taser was involved, played a part in Black's assignment to the night shift.
In June, discussion of a private video of a BPD officer tazing a man was brought before the city council by a third party, Rose Thompson.
Jones said the options included suspending Black with pay or reassigning him until the investigation was completed. An initial period of 60 days is allowed but can be extended if the investigation is not over.
When asked if the police department was being micromanaged by the mayor's office, the mayor said it was not and the chief has always been in charge, but that he does expect employees to follow policies and procedures.
"Anybody that actually does your job," Jones said," you will have no problems."
Jones said that the police department is short handed, but that people have applied and went through the testing procedures.
The psychological exam required for department officers disqualifies a portion of applicants who either don't complete the test because of its length or don't pass. However, the mayor said this psychological exam is provided through risk management.
Former officers Newnum and Dennis Aswell, who left as a sergeant after six years of service, said that morale is low in the department for a variety of reasons.
"The reason I left is there is no money in the department," Aswell said, "and it is running into the ground..."
Aswell also stated that he believed Black was not being allowed to run the department.
A third officer, Eric McCaughan also stated that he left for monetary reasons. Of the three officers who quit, McCaughan was the only one who was within a year of having completed his two-year commitment.
In previous years, the department had shifts with five officers. Now, the department has three officers on three shifts and four on a fourth shift.
"It is a unsafe work environment," Newnum said, "operating a city of 11,000 with 5,600 complaints for the year with less personnel is extremely dangerous. I left for my family, for the betterment of my family. You may or may not have back-up when you go on a call."
Jones indicated that pay does present an issue when hiring new workers, but said that many departments that pay more offer less than the city of Bastrop in terms of benefits, such as insurance and retirement.
Black provided comments about officers leaving and the status of the department as a whole but did not comment on the reasons why particular officers may have left and, instead, said that each officer should be consulted.
"We have lost some officers to some departments in Ouachita," Black said. "Some in Ouachita Parish pay much more than we do and have less paperwork. It is getting more and more difficult to replace those we lose, [but] we are working hard to fill positions."
Black also said that the loss of officers at the BPD has been continuous since he has been in Bastrop but that the department is smaller, and there is less revenue which makes it harder to replace officers when they leave for places such as the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office and the Monroe and West Monroe police departments.