Month: September 2020

News + Notes

Library System forced to reconsider expansions, including Northside branch

The gist: Two library expansions and a new Northside branch may be reconsidered if the library’s property tax is not increased to offset revenue lost from declining commercial property values in the parish. The Lafayette Parish Library System stands to lose almost $750,000 in annual revenue if the Parish Council approves of Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s plan to leave it out […]

6 min read
News + Notes

Lafayette Police adopts parts of 8 Can’t Wait police reform campaign

The gist: Updates to policies governing how Lafayette police officers use force will align department practices with a national police reform and racial justice campaign, once the changes are formally approved. A limited ban on using chokeholds and requiring de-escalation strategies are among the revisions adopted by the Lafayette Police Department after several weeks of discussions with a working group, spearheaded by three Black women, convened after the killing of George Floyd. 

5 min read

This is the first time LPD has updated its use of force policy since 2014. The changes are largely incremental, as many of the policies outlined by the 8 Can’t Wait police reform campaign used as a north star by the working group were already part of LPD’s general orders. Conference calls and Zoom meetings on the issue commenced in June, just as the nation began to seethe with protests — a movement that touched Lafayette with a round of peaceful marches in early summer. Local calls for police reform have grown louder after Lafayette police shot and killed Trayford Pellerin, a Black man, kicking off intense protests and vocal advocacy that has yet to extinguish. After Pellerin’s killing, the local NAACP demanded LPD adopt the framework and commit to other substantial changes. 

Law student Faith Flugence, who introduced 8 Can’t Wait as the group’s framework, calls the changes a “win” even as they fall short of addressing what she sees as the deeper roots of police malpractice: racial injustice and a lack of accountability when police fail to abide by their own codes of conduct. 

“That’s definitely still yet to be resolved,” Flugence says, reflecting on the changes after a meeting earlier this afternoon. “That’s something that will take a lot of gnawing at. The fact we got policies implemented and got these parties to the table was a win for us nevertheless.” 

Read LPD’s Bias Based Profiling policy adopted in 2010.

Working separately, Flugence and attorney Xavieria Jeffers were connected with neighborhood organizer Alzina Dural, who also sits on the police community relations board, by LCG Chief of Minority Affairs Carlos Harvin. The group met with interim Chief Scott Morgan, who is White, and other LPD representatives to comb through changes in a series of meetings that were at times contentious and mutually suspicious, according to the women who participated. 

8 Can’t Wait was launched after George Floyd’s death. The framework establishes eight no-cost policies advocates say can reduce the number of deaths and injuries resulting from police violence: 

  • Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
  • Require de-escalation 
  • Require warning before shooting
  • Exhaust alternatives before shooting
  • Impose a duty to intervene and stop wrongful violence among officers 
  • Ban shooting at moving vehicles
  • Require a “use of force continuum” to detail force techniques available to police 
  • Require comprehensive reporting of incidents involving force 

LPD’s existing use of policy was implemented under Chief Jim Craft in 2014 and has not been updated since. Here are provisional changes released Thursday. Changes in bold: 

  • Chokeholds are now reclassified as deadly force and reserved as a last resort 
  • De-escalation is now a required procedure in the use of force policy. LPD has trained officers in a de-escalation practice called “Verbal Judo” since the 1990s.
  • Require warning before shooting 
  • Exhaust all alternatives before shooting 
  • A more explicit duty to intervene now requires officers to immediately confront unlawful and dangerous violence 
  • Shooting at moving vehicles is banned in all but “extreme circumstances” (slight revision)
  • Existing use of force continuum is updated and now includes de-escalation tactics (slight revision) 
  • Existing use of force review process remains (slight revision)

Read the LPD’s Use of Force policy adopted in 2014. This is the first time it has been released publicly.

Many departments, like Lafayette, already have policies in place that tick off boxes in the campaign. Created by the police reform advocacy Campaign Zero, the framework was designed as a low-barrier gateway to broader police reform. Many police reform advocates view the changes as superficial, even too easy to adopt, such that police departments are able to boast about progress without commitment to substantial changes.

There are more tweaks to come before the policy is finalized. Jeffers says the group was surprised by LCG’s announcement Thursday. The group had not seen the policies before the press release was published and quickly made headlines in local media. At first put off by the unilateral announcement, both Jeffers and Flugence say they were pleased with what they saw and ultimately walked away upbeat from their meeting Friday. Holding officers accountable is where the improvements come up short for Jeffers, but guidance from interim Chief Morgan on how to press for more changes floored her. 

“I was shocked,” Jeffers says. “It really demonstrated that they’re in this for real.”

News + Notes

Feds grant another $1.4 million to Lafayette for emergency housing assistance

The gist: Identified as a place at “higher risk” for evictions, Lafayette will receive a second and larger round of federal stimulus dollars intended for housing aid during the pandemic. At just under $1.4 million, the block grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development nearly doubles the last allocation Lafayette received, one the Guillory administration used to stand up a small business grant program.

4 min read

Housing advocates say the money adds flexibility but likely falls short of the overall need. Hundreds of Acadiana households remain in hotels with FEMA footing the bill, although that program is no longer taking on new clients. Sustained unemployment threatens to add more need to a largely under-resourced network of nonprofits, which is coordinating responses not only to the pandemic but also recovery efforts after Hurricane Laura. Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness and Housing now has case managers helping those in the hotel program moving into stable housing. ARCH Executive Director Leigh Rachal says the latest round of funding could help that process move more quickly or go toward a longer-term solution. Acadiana’s shelter system is tapped out and stretched to its limits by the pandemic. 

“It’s sort of like a community operating without an emergency room,” Rachal says of the lack of shelter space. “If you have a medical crisis, you need an emergency room. These funds, because they’re so very flexible, provide some opportunity for the community to really think through what we need to do more holistically.” 

Hollis Conway, director of Lafayette’s Community Development Department, says his office is working on a community needs assessment to sort out the best use of the money.

HUD’s messaging on the allocation focuses on housing. In a press release announcing the nearly $2 billion allocation, HUD said it is exhausting what remains of the $5 billion set aside for community development block grants through the CARES to help “places with households facing higher risk of eviction.”

“These funds can help households struggling to meet their rental or mortgage obligations to stay afloat as our nation continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic,” U.S. Housing Secretary Ben Carson said in the HUD release.

Communities used funds from earlier rounds to tackle a variety of emerging needs, including housing, business support or to buy equipment like personal protective gear and testing supplies. Lafayette used all of its first grant — $852,000 — on a small business program that has struggled to move cash quickly and widely as promised. LCG has since shuffled around $560,000 in regular federal housing dollars and will chip $100,000 out of the small business recovery program to meet housing assistance needs. 

Louisiana will receive $27 million in this round of block grants. HUD’s release says states received priority for funding based on their level of unemployment and the current severity of their coronavirus outbreaks. Louisiana experienced one of the worst coronavirus rebounds, which has abated in recent weeks. 

Hundreds of thousands in Louisiana remain out of work or underemployed. Around 232,000 Louisiana workers filed continued jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 9. Just over 10,000 people in Lafayette Parish filed continued claims that same week. In May, the state peaked at 321,000 claims. Acadiana’s shelters remain tapped out. This week, the $300 boost to unemployment checks tacked on by the federal government will end, reducing the maximum weekly benefit to $247, among the lowest in the nation. Economists project Louisiana will not have recovered all jobs lost by 2021.

News + Notes

Forensic audit in hand, Guillory administration turned to FBI on LUS investigation

The gist: City-parish attorneys kicked the findings of a forensic auditor’s report into suspect transactions between LUS and LUS Fiber to the FBI, according to email correspondence with council members. Based on the same evidence in that forensic audit report, and other documents previously handed over, the district attorney declined to prosecute crimes alleged by the Guillory administration. 

6 min read
News + Notes

No evidence of malfeasance, records destruction or other crimes by former LUS director, district attorney finds

The gist: Despite persistent efforts, the Guillory administration failed to mount a compelling ad hoc criminal case against longtime LUS and LUS Fiber Director Terry Huval, the district attorney concludes in a pair of letters to LCG’s legal department and the mayor-president obtained by The Current through a public records request. Further, District Attorney Keith Stutes insists what LCG alleged […]

7 min read