Bullen hopes to improve rapport between police officers, citizens

Published 5:24 am Saturday, December 17, 2016

Come January, Kendall Bullen will become the chief of police in Bogalusa.

Bullen was tapped as chief by the Bogalusa City Council earlier in the month and then sworn in on Tuesday. While he is not technically the chief yet, he has no plans to remain on the sidelines for the next two weeks. This week he is moving into outgoing police Chief Joe Culpepper’s office in City Hall, and by Jan. 1, Bullen said he will be ready to work.

He sees his first task as mending fences.

“I want to gain and build the trust of the community,” he said.

Bullen said he wants to start a community policing program that puts officers in communities and in situations where they can interact with citizens informally. Bullen said he will work with members of the city council, who will provide him names of community leaders in their districts who are willing to work as liaisons between the neighborhood and law enforcement.

This will require some initial buy-in, but Bullen said once the initial trust is established, he is hopeful further community support can be established.

“For community policing to work, both the police and the community have to be sold on the idea,” he said. “I want it to the point where the members of the community know a police officer by name when they see them.”

As part of the community policing program, he wants to meet face-to-face with the select neighborhood leaders on a regular basis, hear their concerns and explain what legal options exist to address those concerns.

Although the city’s budget is expected to be slim next year, Bullen said he’s looking for federal or state funds to help train officers for developing community policing programs. And, he added, he plans to use existing talent to train younger officers.

“I have got a bunch of well-trained and good officers in this department that are capable of training officers themselves. So we want to start a lot of in-house training programs,” he said.

Bullen said he would also like to include more civilians in the day-to-day business of police work. He said he first got involved with the Bogalusa Police Department after he turned 21 and signed up for a reserve-policing program that was then common in Louisiana and allowed civilians to train with a police officer. Bogalusa no longer uses the program, but Bullen said the department could send volunteer civilians to the police academy a few nights a week for several hours each night, and after nine months, the department will have a certified civilian reserve officer.

“I would like to see us get a big, active reserve program started back here,” he said. “I’d like to look at implementing a police explorer program. We had that in the community years ago.”

Explorer programs are affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America and they allow teens under the age of 18 to focus on specific interests or professions. Bullen said he would use police explorers to assist in traffic control and would allow them to go on ride-alongs.

“They would help at special functions like Mardi Gras and big events,” he said.
Reserve policing, the explorer program and community policing are different paths to the same goal — community trust. By expanding opportunities to involve more civilians into the world of policing, Bullen said he hopes to earn trust.

However, Bullen will likely face some challenges in getting that trust.

For the past several months, a handful of vocal opponents — including some current and former officers — have accused him of police misconduct and police brutality. Bullen has never been found guilty of any such misconduct, but the allegations remain and the anger and frustration is raw. Nevertheless, Bullen said he believes those wounds will heal in time, although it will take work.

“I think they are wounds that can be repaired by seeing the job that we will ddo,” he said.

Over time, Bullen said he believes good police and community relationships will develop trust.

“I would like to see the community know that they can trust our police officers, know that we have some good police officers here and that our officers can assist them,” he said.

But to foster community trust, Bullen must also develop trust within his own department. During the process of picking the chief, there were complaints of cronyism and cliques within the department. Bullen said he would not tolerate such things as chief.

“There will be no cliques as far as the police department goes,” he said. “All specialty positions will be based on officers’ merit and performance.”
He added that he wants the department to function more as a family — the way it did when he started.

“We all knew each other and we all knew each others kids and families,” Bullen said. That sort of familiarity bred trust, and Bullen thinks he can bring that back again.

“I am going to start putting together some functions for all police and their families,” he said. “On me. Several times in the first year, to try to build the personal relationships in the department so were all on the same page and we all have the same goals.”

As with community trust, re-establishing or establishing trust and close relationships within the department takes time.

“It can’t happen overnight, but we’re not going to slow down with it. I have a very
strong work ethic,” he said.

In addition to the work ethic, Bullen brings 22 years of experience within the BPD to his new position.

“I know the ins and outs of this department,” he said. I know the inside and I know what changes need to be made.”

At the end of the day, he said he believes he wants what most people want — a safe city.

“My ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life of every citizen in Bogalusa,” he said. “I want our kids to be able to walk down the streets, without the fear of gunshots being fired.”