BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - A new website that calls into question the pay for Bossier City police officers, criticizes staffing levels and alleges a secretive and retaliatory administration is stirring up controversy.
The anonymous forces behind Bossier C.O.P.S. describe it as a fraternal organization consisting of Bossier City Police officers, their families, and community supporters. The acronym C.O.P.S. stands for "Community of Public Servants."
Popping up online just before the Labor Day weekend, Bossier C.O.P.S. published a post on its website titled "Officers Speak Out on Pay, Manpower, and More." The write up claims Bossier C.O.P.S. solicited anonymous comments from Bossier City police officers regarding the current environment inside the police department.
Many of the officers' responses are about low pay. One anonymous comment pointing out that police have not received a raise in 11 years claims city council uses "funding the city retirement system" as an "excuse" to avoid giving officers more money.
Another reply states frivolous spending and council members giving "themselves a raise" is why police cannot get a raise and the reason the city cannot afford to hire more officers.
That's not true, according to Bossier City spokesman Mark Natale.
"Bossier City Police and the city try to do everything they can to compensate the officers as best they can, given the amount of tax revenue coming into the city," Natale said.
A review of the city's annual budgets shows the combined sales and property tax revenue collected and used to pay police officer salaries in the Bossier City Budget grew from 2014 to 2016 by more than $14 million. However, in the 2017 budget, that revenue fell nearly $18 million, dropping below 2014 levels.
"I don't feel these people have attended a union meeting to know what's going on with raises," said B.J. Sanford, President of International Union of Police Associations Local 645, the union representing members of the B.C.P.D. "They are just lashing out against everybody and everything."
Those behind the site disagree.
"That's something the city wants the media to hear," they tell KSLA News 12. "But you see on the page when officers get a chance to talk anonymously, they'll tell you a lot more than you're going to hear from union leaders."
While the Bossier C.O.P.S. website calls the responses given to their officer inquiries "shocking," an equally distressing revelation is the apparent rift growing between Local 645 leaders and its rank and file members.
"It's not just Bossier C.O.P.S.," they say. "There are other cops that have turned their backs on the union because the union no longer represents their interests."
Sergeant Chris Davis, President of the Bossier Fraternal Order of Police, says he is not personally involved with Bossier C.O.P.S., but he is not against what the group is doing online.
"I don't know if a majority of the department feels this way," Davis said. "But I would say a decent amount does."
Davis went on to say he is confident the comments and concerns are from current officers on the B.C.P.D.
According to those behind the site, responses came from divisions and ranks across the department, not just patrol.
Officer safety is another primary concern, according to the Bossier C.O.P.S. post.
In one of the longer and more damning replies published, an officer frets that police are "strained nearly every day" and if the public knew "how bad certain things are" the job of being an officer in Bossier City would become even more dangerous.
"Manpower and the quality of the force have declined to a point where it is a safety issue," one site administrator told KSLA News 12. "Things are not getting better, they are getting worse."
Sanford, the union president who is also a veteran Patrol Sergeant, takes exception with that characterization.
"Every officer that's on the street has passed the same training that I passed, and I've been here 22 years, Sanford says. "I don't know if that website is an accurate depiction of what union members feel or the police department feels."
Natale agrees, saying he is confident the Bossier City police force remains strong.
"From a manpower standpoint, we are good, besides patrol." However, Natale said, "our motorcycle patrol division, traffic division, and street crime units supplement patrol. So we feel the city is adequately covered."
On the website, Bossier C.O.P.S. explains it had to redact parts of some police comments to keep the identities of responding officers hidden.
The post goes on to say officers are afraid to speak out publicly about department morale and other internal problems, fearing retaliation if the wrong person gets mad.
"If I felt strongly about something, I would not hide behind an anonymous website," Sanford said. "There are so many checks and balances in place in our society for people being targeted or attacked or anything else, that you know you're protected."
Natale says the city has no history of retaliating against its officers.
"I don't know of anybody leaving the department because there was concern over being retaliated against."
Those behind the site feel differently.
"There's not a lot of protection for us right now, it's a very volatile situation."
Both Natale and Sanford say officials continue talking about a way to make BCPD pay more competitive with nearby police departments, especially those in East Texas.
"The union, the Chief and the city are all working on getting officers raises," Sanford said.
But Davis, the Bossier F.O.P. president, says he met with Police Chief Shane McWilliams about a month ago. According to Davis, the two men talked about Bossier police officers getting a raise above the annually mandated 2% cost of living increase. Davis says Chief McWilliams told him "that might not happen for several years."
To see if BCPD officer pay is competitive with other cities, KSLA compared the published starting salaries for new officers in Bossier City with six different cities in the ArkLaTex. Those departments include Shreveport, Monroe, and Kenner, Louisiana; in addition to Texarkana, Arkansas, Texarkana, Texas and Longview, Texas.
At $32,796, Bossier City police officers new to the force get paid the least of all the departments examined. The Texarkana, Texas department pays the highest starting salary at $40,188, followed by Texarkana, Arkansas paying $38,386. The Kenner Police Department pays the best of the Louisiana forces, with new hires earning $36,000. However, the police departments in Shreveport and Monroe barely eclipse Bossier City, paying $33,000 and $33,259 respectively.