Holden, Walker lay out differing plans for police staffing
Going back to the 1960s and long before Mayor Kip Holden took office, the race for the top political seat in Baton Rouge traditionally pitted candidates from the southern part of the parish against those from the northern part. And except for Pat Screen—a former star quarterback at LSU who served two terms beginning in 1980—a candidate from Baker or Zachary always won.
This year's mayoral race, however, doesn't pit north versus south. Rather, it heated up this summer when Holden's main challenger, Metro Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker—who lives in the Millerville Road/Old Hammond Highway area—began hurling brickbats at Holden, whose back he used to cover.
Walker is campaigning largely on a platform of stemming violent crime, while incumbent Holden points to an eight-year record of creating jobs, managing effectively in a slow economy, building roads, revitalizing downtown, and rolling out Operation BRAVE, the crime fighting initiative from which he accuses Walker of lifting ideas.
At the end of June, the Metro Council passed an $11.1 million budget supplement Holden introduced that includes a police academy this fall for 32 new police officers.
Walker, a Republican who is in his third and final term, says if he were mayor now he would immediately hire at least 60 new police officers.
"Right now, the mayor knows where all the money is hidden," Walker says.
Holden, a Democrat seeking his third term as mayor, contends the police academy doesn't have the training to hire 60 officers at once, and adds another 30 will be hired next year. He also shows little effort to hide his bemusement with Walker's notion that surplus funds remain unaccounted for via tricky accounting.
"Every council member knows what's in that budget, unless you don't read it," Holden says. "And obviously he's not reading the budget."
Their relationship wasn't always this way. And maybe it wasn't rosy, but Holden and Walker were once considered to be on friendly terms—allies, even, endorsing each other for re-election in 2008. But by the time Walker announced his candidacy for mayor in February, the air in City Hall between the pair was already noxious.
Walker says it's the Holden administration that let the size of the police force contract with attrition, putting the department on its heels due to a lack of manpower.
"All we're doing is being reactive after somebody gets shot, after somebody gets killed, after somebody gets burglarized," Walker says.
Holden says Walker's calls for more boots on the ground are not enough to stem violence, particularly in the city's 70805 ZIP code, which Operation BRAVE targets.
"It's the programs and interacting with the community that makes a difference," says Holden, the city's first black mayor. "We are working and walking neighborhoods so we can build trust in those areas between people who live there and with the police department."
If elected, Walker says he would operate the city jail around the clock for processing people with outstanding warrants, and put more funding in the truancy and detoxification centers.
Holden says city jail remains as a reserve for events such as the Fourth of July that see a spike in crime, and that officers already work to process people at the parish prison if they have a warrant. He says a truancy program is starting this fall, and that if government had the money to provide all of the city's detox centers with additional funding, it would.
Walker claims reserve funds hold millions of unused dollars, and says he would raid them to beef up law enforcement, even trimming expenses in other areas to do so: "I'd grab a hold of [the budget] and shake the hell out of it."
Holden, meanwhile, prides himself on not making cuts to departments when revenues were flat and questions Walker's plan for all of city-parish government: "I would challenge him to find, and present, enough money to cover all his plans without cutting services to people and laying people off."
Regarding the economy, Holden touts his work with digital media—Electronic Arts has brought 600 new jobs to Baton Rouge and is located on the LSU campus—and the film industry, noting $210 million was spent last year in the parish by moviemakers.
Holden also cites the Green Light Plan, which has completed 26 road-building projects and has six under way, as another major achievement.
Walker, for his part, maintains that as mayor his focus and budgetary spending would be on fighting crime, hinting at possible sacrifices in other departments.
"Some people are going to scream and holler," Walker says, "but there's priority: people are getting murdered every night."
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