Sheriff candidates tout qualifications at SMIG
By: JEAN L. KAESS
MORGAN CITY — Three of the four candidates extolled their qualifications for the office of St. Mary Parish Sheriff during Monday’s St. Mary Industrial Group meeting.
Sheriff Mark Hebert, Patterson Police Chief Patrick LaSalle and former state Rep. Jack Smith were on hand for the event. George Rodriguez, also a declared candidate, could not attend because of a prior commitment.
Hebert, who was chief criminal deputy at the time of his appointment, took over the office after then-Sheriff David Naquin retired in July.
He has served in the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s office for 28 years under three different sheriffs, having served in almost every capacity at the sheriff’s office including patrol officer, detective and warden of the jail.
Hebert also has served with the SWAT Tactical and Negotiations section, Criminal Investigations Division and the Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force.
The incumbent also has completed countless professional training and law enforcement education courses.
Hebert told SMIG members he administers a $13.5 million budget and oversees 210 deputies. In that budget, food services for inmates total between $35,000 and $40,000 monthly, he said. When that’s broken down, he said it costs $2.34 per day to feed an inmate three meals.
The department also administers a work release program in which selected inmates are allowed to work in the private sector while serving their sentences. Their pay helps fund their room and board, clothing and child support. They also pay taxes while working, he said.
In an audit by the Department of Corrections, the St. Mary Parish jail “met and exceeded expectations,” he said.
The sheriff’s office currently has a full-time water patrol, an academy that trains all deputies and officers for area municipalities, and a detective division with officers assigned full-time to various federal law enforcement organizations. That division also tracks 141 sex offenders in St. Mary Parish. Deputies and detectives visit each offender prior to Halloween each year to ensure they are not participating in festivities in any way.
Acknowledging that drugs are a problem in our parish, the sheriff said the narcotics task force, to date, has made 234 arrests, collected $25,000 in drug money and taken 41 weapons off the streets.
The sheriff’s department has added two more deputies who execute warrants. This has caused the parish to lead the 16th Judicial District in collections from its worthless checks program. Over $300,000 has been collected from worthless check warrants so far in 2011, he said.
Hebert, like every candidate, said taking advantage of technology would be important in his administration. Already the department has employed a sophisticated accounting program to promote good business practices.
Technology, he said, is “a great asset, but it’s only as good as those who use it.” He added that training is an important goal in his administration.
LaSalle began his law enforcement career with the Patterson Police Department in 1973.
He attended the Louisiana State University Law Enforcement Academy in 1975 and was accepted into the Louisiana State Police Academy a year later. He remained with LSP until 1992.
During his tenure with LSP, he served as a parish trooper, field training officer and narcotics investigator.
After leaving LSP, LaSalle worked for the U.S. Marshal Service before assuming the role of assistant chief in Patterson and now is chief of police for the city.
Since he became chief in Patterson, LaSalle said the city’s population has grown 19 percent and has seen a dramatic decrease in crime. Also, he said, he has a mayor and council begging him to get out of the race.
Improvements in technology and communication are the basis of his campaign.
“Our personnel will be trained, courteous, polite and on the job.”
The deputies are doing the best they can, but there is a lack in leadership. If elected, gone are the days when residents have to wait two hours or more for a deputy to come off break and attend to their needs, he said.
Also, “I will communicate, and not take a demi-god position locked away in some office only available for some people.”
LaSalle pledged to bring technology in the sheriff’s office up to speed. Patterson officers have mounted video cameras in their patrol cars, and he said the sheriff’s office should have the same.
Further, he promised to establish substations in Bayou Vista, Four Corners and Amelia
“The times of having to find out from the newspaper when an investigation was ongoing (because of a lack of communication between departments) are over,” he said.
Finally, he pledged to take a tough stance on those that are bringing drugs into the parish, noting he was an officer on the last drug smuggling case in the parish in which 17 tons of marijuana were seized.
Smith, a former law enforcement officer, became one of the youngest commissioned police officers in the state at age 18.
He is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in criminal justice and a minor in business administration.
Smith was employed as a St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s deputy and was employed as a Patterson City Police officer.
He has served as St. Mary Parish Coroner and conducted more than 100 death investigations.
Smith also has served as District 50 Louisiana state representative for almost two decades where he served on the Criminal Justice Committee and the Appropriations Committee.
He also has attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has completed several hours toward his Master’s of Business Administration.
“I am the most qualified to manage the sheriff’s department for the next four years,” Smith said.
Smith promised a better educated workforce through an education initiative for deputies, the addition of a K-9 force belonging to the parish department, and cooperation with schools to correct small problems before they become large.
Technology, he said, is lacking in the sheriff’s department. There are fewer cruiser computer units in the department than in municipalities, he added. Also, he pledged the department would be 90 percent paperless by the end of his term, if elected.
Smith said prison overcrowding is a problem in St. Mary Parish.
While authorized to hold 300 prisoners, he said the parish jail sometimes holds as many as 400. This violates both Department of Corrections and state Fire Marshall codes. Should those violations be noticed by a judge, a cease and desist order barring the housing of prisoners could be handed down, he noted.
While any jail will have escapes from time to time, this parish is not prepared when they do happen, Smith said. He said he will institute a call warning system for people in the area, warning them of the situation and possibly saving lives.
“I don’t need a job. I have one. I don’t need a title,” he told SMIG members. Smith added that by being elected sheriff he would be taking a cut in pay and benefits.
“I can’t be bought, rented or leased,” he said.
At the next SMIG meeting on Oct. 3, members will hear from candidates for the state House District 51 seat.