The Louisiana State Capitol (Wesley Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
Leaders in the Louisiana Legislature are expected to set a salary range by week’s end for the director of a new capitol security force. The compensation will be on par with what many police chiefs around the state make.
The director, who lawmakers hope to have hired before year’s end, will oversee as many as two dozen police officers who would protect the complex year-round.
The Capitol Security Council held its first meeting Monday and voted to allow legislative leaders to advertise the director’s position once their compensation is determined. Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder are among the 10 members of the Legislature who sit on the council. The two planned to set salary parameters in the coming days.
Cortez has said the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol prompted him to author the act that created the council and security force. Its jurisdiction includes the Capitol Annex and the Pentagon Apartments where some lawmakers have second residences.
Lawmakers budgeted $2 million for the agency, including $135,000 in salary and benefits for its director. That would put the director’s compensation in the neighborhood of the $110,000 average for Louisiana police chiefs, according to a figure council member Rep. Debbie Villio provided at Monday’s meeting.
“It’s my opinion that the person we hire won’t be turning us down because of money,” Cortez told the council.
The council discussed setting a compensation range for advertising the director’s position to allow flexibility for a final offer based on the candidate’s experience. The new director must have at least 10 years in law enforcement to qualify for the position.
Sen. Jay Luneau suggested a range between $120,000 and $150,000, saying higher pay is justified because the director will be building a police department from scratch. Schexnayder said an $80,000 to $120,000 range would be suitable for a position that he doesn’t expect to attract a major metropolitan police chief.
For the sake of comparison, Lafayette Police Chief Thomas Guillory receives a base salary of $132,000 to lead a department of about 300 officers. Base pay for Southern University Police Chief Joycelyn Johnson is $94,000. She leads 33 police officers for a campus with about 8,300 students. The leader of the Baton Rouge Police Department, Chief Murphy Paul, is paid $145,000 before benefits.
The act lists a capitol security force size between 20 and 24 officers who must hold the same peace officer certification that police departments require. Cortez said the new director will determine the actual size of the department, which could end up well below the number included in his legislation.
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When the proposal was debated earlier this year, some lawmakers questioned whether the capitol security department would replace the sergeants-at-arms and state police already in place. Cortez and lawmakers who carried his bill indicated during the session that sergeants-at-arms would still maintain decorum during committee hearings and floor sessions.
On Monday, Cortez noted that troopers ultimately answer to the governor and are only present near chambers and committee rooms during legislative sessions. The Department of Public Safety’s Capitol Police squad patrols parking areas at the complex. The new security force would staff the Capitol complex “24-7,” Cortez said.
There has been a long-standing need for coordinated security efforts at the Capitol, Cortez said. He referenced a third-party audit that revealed vulnerabilities in the current set-up that splits security responsibilities between the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms without any shared standards or reliable communication. Other states have established comparable security forces with police authority, Cortez added, including one Mississippi is setting up this year.
Security at the Pentagon Apartments has been repeatedly mentioned as a reason why the new department is needed. Without providing details, Cortez said at Monday’s meeting that two lawmakers who were staying at the complex after an LSU football game last fall reported incidents that required police attention.
The council intends to have a capitol security director and department framework in place before next year’s legislative session begins in April. A subcommittee of members will cull down the list of director applicants before holding public interviews with a small number of finalists. All legislators will then get to vote on the council’s pick for the director’s job.
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