Cover Story, July 2018

Cover Story, BRPD Chief Murphy Paul, Faith and Family First

Faith and family first

Chief murphy paul calls the community to action

Armed with 27 years of law enforcement experience and standing on a foundation of faith, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul exudes confidence in efforts to stem the rising tide of violence among American youth.

“If we’re going to change the hearts and souls of young men, then I think it’s going to start with our faith-based community,” he said. “Less than 7% of individuals are responsible for a majority of the violent crime. They’re not in their congregations on Sundays – they’re not. So, if we’re going to evangelize to the lost, you have to get from behind the pulpit. We have to hit the streets.”

That means intentionally stepping into troubled areas, building bridges of trust and opening avenues of communication. But they want to do it wisely. This summer, the U.S. Department of Justice is holding sessions in Baton Rouge with faith-based leaders and other community partners on safely engaging the community at the street level.

“We’re going to ask our pastors to try to reach the hearts of these young men, and we’re going to have mentors out there,” Paul said. “We’re going to do everything we can to have a positive impact on this culture of violence.”

“One of the things we recognize is that there are barriers in community-police relations. So, what we’re telling the community is – if you’re scared to come forward to law enforcement, if you don’t want to come forward, then go to your pastor, your faith-based leader and talk to him or her,” Paul said. Faith-based leaders can then present appropriate information to law enforcement.

While current statistics indicate an increase in the homicide rate, Chief Paul expects the number of violent deaths to decrease as their efforts take hold. “We’re below the national average when it comes to solving these homicides and that’s due, in part, because the community is not coming forward and working with us to provide information to put these bad guys in jail,” he said. “Every violent crime that we see right now – there’s a gun involved. And we’re starting to see that some of the criminals are getting younger and younger.”

It’s important to get to know people, then look for crisis signs. “A change in behavior is a big indicator,” Paul said. “So, I think it’s important in this day and age that when we see something, we say something.”

Chief Paul favors the idea of police officers in schools to serve as resource personnel. However, there is currently too little funding and too few officers. Consistent, on-site police officers would develop relationships with students that can break down barriers, flag problems and help kids view police officers in a different light.

“We’re starting to see some progress. The community is saying we’re sick and tired of the violent crime that’s going on in our community, and they’re talking,” he said. Crime Stoppers, the anonymous tip line, is receiving as many as 400 calls per month at 344-STOP.

But the core of the issue is a need for changed hearts, Paul believes. “We are dealing with a culture of violence in the city of Baton Rouge where we have young men who don’t care if they live another day. They don’t care about the consequences,” he said. “Their hearts are not in the right place. With all our work and efforts as police officers, we’re not in the heart business.”

That’s where the faith-based community can work best – by transforming lives, Paul said. He traces his own success to adults who cultivated his faith and understanding of right and wrong.

Growing up in New Orleans, Paul confronted a spectrum of tough choices. “I look at the young men that I grew up with – some are in jail, some have lost their lives, some may not be doing as well. And I look at all the successful [ones].” Education and positive role models are key, he said. “You need mentors; you need people to look up to, people to help lead you in that direction.” Paul said some people who run into trouble with the law were never taught to do the right thing.

“It’s unfortunate that we do have a generation that are lost, but we can’t give up on them. It’s not the Christian thing to do,” he said. “We have to keep trying.” To youth in the community – and his own four sons – Paul preaches the three C’s: control, choices and consequences.

“You have control over everything you do. How you respond to a situation is more important than the hardship itself. That’s why you have to be wise when you make choices because they have consequences,” he said.

“So, I tell kids: Don’t buy into this victim mentality. We make mistakes. Learn from them,” he said. “The way you do that is understanding the 3 F’s: faith and family first. They are the only institutions that don’t judge you and give you second chances.”

Paul said many people invested in his life and led by example. “My mom [Patricia Price Paul] always preached the importance of putting God first,” he said. His parents divorced when he was very young, leaving her to raise Paul and his two sisters.

“She just showered us with so much love. My sisters – we have a great relationship. I can’t ever think of a phone call or a conversation where we didn’t say “I love you” and “I love you, too,” even after an argument. He credits his mother for her awareness of their friends and activities – and for being quick to intervene when something didn’t seem right.

“My mom could come in my room any time and just search the room. I can remember one time she searched the car – she didn’t like the company I was with that time,” he said. “Kids out there don’t always make the best decisions.” He advises parents to take charge by searching their kids’ backpacks and bedrooms. “We need to look under the mattress, we need to pull out the drawers, we need to go to the car, get the keys, search in the glove compartment, the trunk and everything. Be involved.”

“I’m in a great place right now, spiritually,” Paul said. To start the day with a positive attitude, he turns to gospel music. At 6:00 every morning, a cashier at the State Police cafeteria sends a verse of scripture. “Today’s scripture is ‘Live wisely among those who are not believers and make the most of every opportunity,’ [Colossians 4:5, 6 NLT]” he said. He reads the daily scripture on the Bible App. He is refreshed and encouraged at Healing Place Church. “Every Sunday, you get an opportunity to empty that stress cup,” he said. “It puts things in the right perspective.”

That perspective is at the heart of his appeal to the faith-based community, in the belief that a mindset of awareness and mentoring can make a difference. Chief Paul is so committed to the concept of community involvement that – when he decided to retire from State Police – he intended to spend the rest of his life connecting capable volunteers with their areas of passion through his new nonprofit, Work to Give. He prepared to become a certified mentor trainer through the John Maxwell program, Then, he experienced a life change.

“If you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans,” Paul said. “God began to bless me and open up doors and opportunities that I could never imagine.” Fellow mentors in the Maxwell program saw his sense of hope, his enthusiasm and his experience as qualifications for a future police chief – something he had not considered. On their advice, he turned in his application for Baton Rouge chief of police just before the deadline.

I’m excited about the future of the police department here. We have great men and women who work here,” he said. “I think God put me here for a reason.”

“It’s a difficult time. I do believe that. And that’s why I think prayer is so important,” he said. “God has a way of calming us in difficult times…I pray and ask God for wisdom, for guidance on decisions.”

“But I think the true change in the crime issues here is not going to come from me,” Paul said. “I think it’s going to come from the community – and it’s going to come from the faith-based community. They’re in the business of changing hearts.”

The Baton Rouge Police Department is seeing success through connections with community leaders including faith-based partnerships.

Susan Brown began her career in radio news. She was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds a master’s degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.

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August 2015, BRCLM Lagniappe

Hartley-Vey Gardere Park: Inspiring Hope Once Again

by Susan Brown

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-3Where there is hope a community thrives. The most visible evidence is a colorful, first-class new playground, designed and constructed in conjunction with the community at BREC’s Hartley-Vey Gardere Park. But change is deeper than that.

“I just thank God for the way things are improving, people’s mindsets are improving,” explains Gardere Initiative President Caulette Jackson-Guillard. A former resident of the Gardere neighborhood, she recalls a sense that giving up – not stepping up – was prevalent. The prospect of overcoming the avalanche of individual and community challenges seemed too distant, too lonely, too hard.

“They’re being inspired to hope again, to believe that it can happen. And if we just stick to stuff and not give up it’ll work out. Perseverance is ringing in my ears,” Jackson-Guillard said. That’s the point. This is not just a playground, but a physical and symbolic coming together for neighbors.

A key part of the project was a series of town meetings in which Gardere residents considered their needs and designed their own playground structure. Children created tiles for the playground benches. Under the supervision of Planet Recess, neighbors joined Louisiana National Guard Teen Challenge and local Boy Scouts in building the structures and shoveling a mountain of mulch to form the soft playground surface.

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-5“110 yards of mulch was placed in half the time it usually takes, and a five-deck play system went in about an hour and a half earlier than scheduled,” said Treynor McAdams, owner/president of The playground grant is part of Let’s Play, a nationwide system of community partnerships designed to motivate children and their families to be active. Dr. Pepper, Snapple and national non-profit Kaboom awarded BREC a $15,000 community construction grant to build the playground.

“Unstructured children-directed play has proven to help kids develop physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually,” said BREC Assistant Superintendent for Recreation Programs and Facilities Dale Auzenne. “Today’s kids have less time and fewer opportunities to play than any previous generation.” Adults also need unstructured time together. Gardere Initiative stakeholders are hoping the playground will provide a setting for ongoing interaction among neighborhood residents.

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-13“One of the major goals of the Gardere Initiative is to create a community and I think this park is going to be essential to creating that community,” said Gardere Initiative Treasurer/Secretary Murelle Harrison. “So that’s why this is so important.”

“We’re involved with our kids,” said Andrew Stevens, commander of the Gardere Substation, EPRP Sheriff’s Office. Working side by side with residents to build the playground is part of an ongoing effort to build relationships and invest in the community. “They look up to us and that’s a good thing because you don’t find that a lot across the country with law enforcement.” He credits Sheriff Sid Gautreaux who challenges each commander to have a good working relationship where they serve – and holds him or her accountable.

“When I walked into this it was like I just walked into a blessing because the people were just so receptive to law enforcement.”

BRCLM.Gardere.Playground-9“It’s a milestone – something that we have been praying about and hoping and desiring for the kids in this neighborhood,” said Jackson-Guillard. “I believe that such things bring ownership. You take care of what you helped build, and the things come to fruition that you thought weren’t possible.”

“Our heart is so happy, so contented to know that we’re continuing to move in the right direction,” said Harrison. And I also know that all this is only possible through Jesus Christ himself. We’re very blessed.”

Neighborhood Churches involved are:

Faith Chapel Church of God

St. Jude Catholic Church

Iglesia El Aposento Alto

Greater Sixty Aid Baptist Church

Greater Morning Star Baptist Church