SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — Shreveport Police Chief Ben Raymond is used to stress; most law enforcement officers are.
But the past few weeks have brought increased political and personal pressure for the almost 20-year veteran of the Police Department he now leads.
KSLA News 12 was the first to interview Raymond following his confirmation Tuesday as the city’s top law officer.
And he made it clear he wants to rise above the rancor surrounding his appointment and bring a clearly divided city together.
“The only way to do it is to go out in those communities and meet those people and have face-to-face interaction with them. Listen to their problems and actually address their concerns,” Raymond said.
“I represent the entire community of Shreveport and I care about all people, regardless of color.”
But that’s not going to be easy for Raymond.
During the City Council meeting Tuesday, the polarization of the community was on full display as mostly white residents rose to voice their support for the new police chief while mostly black residents spoke out in opposition.
“Nothing yesterday unnerved me to the point where I thought, ‘Well this isn’t for me’," Raymond said Wednesday. “People have rights to speak their opinions."
A permanent position in the police chief’s office never was guaranteed for Raymond, who has been serving as provisional police chief since November.
And the road to get there was never going to be easy.
Raymond’s ascension to the head of the force began when his predecessor, Alan Crump, went on medical leave last year. Former Mayor Ollie Tyler chose Raymond to fill the position temporarily and Mayor Adrian Perkins kept him on as provisional police chief following his election.
Crump officially retired in July, creating a vacancy for a permanent police chief and starting the tumultuous process for Perkins to find a replacement.
The mayor appointed an advisory committee to interview the seven qualified candidates and choose the top three. Perkins initially said he would heed the committee’s advice, although he had no legal requirement to do so.
But to the chagrin of many, the committee did not include Raymond in its list of finalists.
This magnified a growing rift in the city: On one side were those who felt strongly that Raymond was the most qualified (he had the highest score of all the candidates on the civil service exam), but on the other were scores of people who wanted change.
“I am somewhat surprised by the politics of the job," Raymond said. "We are supposed to be removed from politics as police officers.
“But I’m very happy with the way the mayor and the council have handled everything the last couple of weeks,” the police chief continued.
“I think I had to have the ten-month experience that I had so that I have something to gauge the future on."
In the end, the City Council unanimously confirmed Perkins’ appointment of Raymond as Shreveport’s police chief.
But several council members reminded the mayor, Raymond and the city’s residents that, under Louisiana civil service law, Perkins has the authority to remove Raymond from his post without cause at the end of his first year if he has failed to perform his duties as expected.
As he did Tuesday during the City Council meeting, Raymond once again said he’s fine with that caveat and would gladly walk away from the police chief’s office in 12 months time if the city of Shreveport and the mayor are unhappy with the job he’s doing.
When asked if some citizens calling his integrity into question over the past 10 months soured him on serving as the city’s police chief, Raymond said “No" and stressed that he firmly believes the majority of people living in Shreveport want the same thing he does — a safe and prosperous city.
"I’ve had people try and kill me, so someone talking bad about me is not going to dissuade me in any way.”