Bunkie concerned about shortage of police officers

Avoyelles 'Blue Line'


{Editor’s Note: This is the seventh of a series featuring the law enforcement agencies in Avoyelles Parish. The series title is a reference to the “thin blue line” symbol used by law enforcement to commemorate fallen officers and the relationship between police and the communities they serve.}
   With only five full-time police officers and five part-time officers, the City of Bunkie has been struggling to keep a fully staffed police department to serve Avoyelles’ second-largest municipality.
   The squad is led by Police Chief Bobby Corner, who has served as the city’s elected police chief for over two years. Other members of the administrative team are Assistant Chief Eafin Keller and Patrol Capt. David Blanchard. Other full time officers are Lt. Velvette Williams, Sgt.. Ja’Liash Thomas and Mia Trent. Part-time officers are Clint Armand, Xavier Boyd, Gage Ducote, Zachary Arnoville and Lecorrian Washington. The dispatchers include Supervisor Sandi Aymond, George Ann Onishea, Wyneki Washington, Christopher Lee and Tawana Payne.
   The department has a budget of about $750,000 and a fleet of five patrol cars. 
   Due to the manpower shortage, Corner said he not only works most day shifts, but often pulls night shift duty as well.
  “Our employees are dedicated and work hard, but it is a problem hiring and then keeping officers,” Corner said. “It is hard to hire good employees, but when we find them, we try to keep them on the force.”
   Employees with no law enforcement experience must attend the police academy to get training in several areas of law enforcement, including firearm training. When they return from the police academy, they receive additional training with an experienced officer.
   Corner conceded that he and the City Council have not always seen eye-to-eye on issues. While there are still some issues between the police station and City Hall, Corner said communication has improved. 
   Corner wants the best equipment possible for officers to do their job. That equipment would include body cameras and bullet-proof vests. With a tight budget, his department is often strapped to get the equipment he feels is needed.
  “We want the Bunkie community and our officers to feel safe when they are patrolling the streets of Bunkie” Corner continued. “Our patrolmen are checking businesses and even leaving a note to tell the business owners we are checking their business.”
   There are three schools in Bunkie -- the public Bunkie High and Bunkie Elementary and the parochial St. Anthony -- which officers patrol regularly.
  “Our biggest concern is the safety of the students, including when they go and leave the schools,” he continued. “The traffic at BELA and BHS is congested, especially in the morning, so we want officers helping get the school buses and parents in vehicles to and from school as safely as possible.”
Special events
   The officers also help with special events such as school functions, the Louisiana Corn Festival, Halloween events, the Bunkie Rotary Christmas Parade, the BHS Homecoming parade and Mardi Gras parade.
    “If we know about an event and we can afford the manpower, we will help,” Corner said. “There have been times when officers are needed in Bunkie elsewhere and we can’t cover an event.”
   One of the events that BPD has participated in is one dealing with back to school. BPD officers and local businesses work to help children in Bunkie get ready for school. The businesses provide school supplies and the officers help to distribute the supplies and provide students with safety tips.
    The department works with other law enforcement agencies when additional assistance is needed. 
    Traffic is a problem in Bunkie, which is both blessed and cursed with being a “crossroads” community with several major highways -- including U.S. Highway 71. 
    While the city limits stretch to I-49, BPD officers do not patrol the interstate itself, but do have to deal with the traffic coming off I-49.
   “At times, the traffic on Main Street can be overwhelming,” Corner noted. “There are a number of streets in Bunkie that need to be patrolled, so we may not be on Main Street or the other major highways as much as we would like to be every day.”
    Corner said he will continue to work to improve the department.
   “With a little more funding, I feel Bunkie could have a good department with qualified officers,” Corner said. “If everyone can pull together, it would be for the betterment of Bunkie.”