Bunkie Council, police chief fences not fully mended

Body cam policy, reclassifying officer sore points at meeting

There is still some degree of tension between three members of the Bunkie City Council and Police Chief Scott Ferguson.

While it appeared Ferguson had been able to mend fences with council members Travis Armand, Lem Thomas and Brenda Sampson, old cracks appeared at the Aug. 8 council meeting.

A large part of the meeting dealt with hearing complaints by African-American citizens about the police department. However, before those criticisms were aired there were other police-related issues discussed.

BODY CAMERA POLICY
Citizen Francis Keller Sr. -- a frequent critic of the town’s administration -- asked if police are equipped with body cameras and if the patrol units have dashboard-mounted cameras.

Ferguson said there are five body cameras and the department is waiting on five more. None of the current patrol units have dash cameras but three vehicles recently purchased will be equipped with them.

When asked about the department’s policies and procedures on the use of those cameras, Ferguson responded by saying the policies and procedures have not been written because “we will need a full-time position to implement the body cam policy.”

Ferguson said the policy would require someone be trained to download the video and be able to store it and access it if a judge needs it as evidence.

Armand noted that there had been a promise to have policies and procedures to be presented to the council this summer, and now he was being told there are no policies and procedures.

During discussions at the council meeting, Ferguson noted that officers are using the body cameras they have.

Another citizen, Brenda Blackman-Dawson, said she asked to see the police department’s policies and procedures manual and was told she could not see it.

City Attorney James Lee told her that the manual is public record and she is entitled to read it.

Ferguson said he could not print out copies of the policies and procedures manual to be handed out. He asked that the council put the manual on the city’s website where it could be accessed by the public.

Ferguson said the department has policies and procedures in place for “everything but body cameras.”

On a positive note, Armand said the police department did a much better job of providing all information necessary for the aldermen to consider on proposed personnel changes.

GILBERT ‘RECLASSIFIED'

However, one of those recommended personnel changes opened an old wound.

Ferguson had recommended reclassifying full-time officer/ narcotics detective Timothy Gilbert to an auxiliary (part-time) patrolman/narcotics detective.

Sampson said there appeared to be “a lot of confusion” concerning Gilbert’s employment status.

Armand said he was aware Gilbert had submitted a letter of resignation and thought Gilbert was no longer with the department.

Lee said someone can submit a resignation from a full-time position and hold out the prospect of continuing employment in a part-time post.

It was also noted that Gilbert’s resignation had never been presented and approved by the council.

Ferguson’s recommendation in April to promote Gilbert from a part-time patrol officer to a full-time narcotics detective resulted in a conflict between the three council members and the police chief.

The council defeated the recommendation on a 3-2 vote.

A standing-room-only crowd attended the council meeting when the promotion was first considered, voicing their support for Ferguson’s right to promote officers in his department and urging the council to let the police chief run his department the way he sees fit.

The issue was on the next council agenda on May 9, but Mayor Bruce Coulon removed it because it seemed doomed to the same 3-2 defeat.

Council members conferred with the mayor and Ferguson to resolve the differences and the promotion was unanimously approved at the council’s May 15 special meeting.

Armand pointed out at the Aug. 8 meeting that a “No” vote to Ferguson’s recommendation would mean Gilbert would remain a full-time police officer -- unless such a move triggered his decision to resign.

“I will vote for this tonight,” Armand said, “but this has been ping-ponging. I will not vote to reclassify him again.”

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