BY VICKIE JAMBON
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 23, 2005
RESERVE – Violent crime in St. John the Baptist Parish was cause recently for public officials to meet with citizens to offer far-reaching solutions and to foster community participation.
Citizens packed into the gymnasium at Our Lady of Grace Catholic School in Reserve on Feb. 17 to receive answers from a panel of nine individuals invited to speak in the public forum.
Judge Thomas F. Daley moderated the open-dialogue discussion.
Addressing the public were, Edward Morris, meeting organizer; Sheriff Wayne L. Jones; Tommy Dutreix, chairman for the Chamber of Commerce; Ann LaBorde, Executive Director of Personnel/Legal Services for the parish school board; Neal Bernard, pastor of New Wine Christian Fellowship; District Attorney John Crum; Raynette Lennix, Director of Health and Human Resources; Joseph Johnson, executive director for the parish housing authority; and Dedrick Johnson, owner of Johnson Real Estate Investors L.L.C. and owner of Johnson Concrete Construction L.L.C.
Laborde said efforts are being made in the school system to assist children who have educational and conduct problems.
She said children’s test scores have risen since administrators have reduced the number of transitional changes a child has to go through in school and that group fighting stopped when students from LaPlace and Reserve separated.
Laborde said there is a need for parental involvement.
She said instead of learning
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respect at home, children are witnessing cursing and violence.
The director said she believes in a zero-tolerance stance and that children need to learn right from wrong.
“We need to teach our children to be calm, peaceful and respectful,” said Laborde.
Lennix spoke to the audience next. She offered several statements on behalf of Parish President Nickie Monica.
“Our parish president believes the deterrence of criminal activity can only be achieved with a long-term plan and a group effort. …All groups and agencies in St. John the Baptist Parish must make a sincere and concerted effort to change the status quo and make an investment in our youth. This is necessary to effect change by providing opportunity and incentives for our youth to become responsible, contributing adults,” said Lennix.
She added, Mr. Monica’s office is open to working with all groups and organizations to deter criminal activity in the parish.
Lennix said parish administration is open to amending and introducing ordinances to make the sheriff’s job easier, would provide representatives and man hours to assist with developing and implementing a viable plan of action, would work diligently with church and school personnel to provide activities and guidance and would address blighted properties and target areas that attract loitering and criminal activity.
Speaking on her own behalf, Lennix endorsed the “Youth Build” program. The program enables troubled youth to get their G.E.D. and adequate job training within a six-month period. When the two-step program is completed the participant is awarded $1,000.
Lennix said the program has decreased crime in Terrebonne Parish since its inception in 1998.
Johnson said the housing authority would be willing to house a development center for 3-year-olds.
He said the an academic curricula for the toddlers could be supplied by the school board.
Johnson said the program operates successfully in East Baton Rouge Parish, where L.S.U. monitors the system. He said students who complete the program surpassed other students who only attended Head Start and school.
Johnson said he could meet with H.U.D. officials to help secure the 8-year grant needed to finance the project. He also offered to help set up the training programs.
Representing the Chamber of Commerce, Dutreix said the problem facing the parish was systemic.
He said three things were vital for improving the present crime situation in the parish.
Dutreix emphasized the need for a positive home environment, an education and for a strong sense of morality.
He said drop-outs affect the crime ratio and that churches needed to put morality back into the lives of individuals.
Dutreix mentioned the need for programs that mentor and encouraged businesses to teach work and business ethics when hiring young people.
Dedrick Johnson also spoke about the need to hire young persons.
Johnson said he believes in the summer work program, but said it is expensive.
“Crime comes from people who need money. Kids are always asking me to give them a job,” said Johnson.
The business owner also repeated a need for parents to train their children while the child is young.
The most alarming thing Johnson said was that he hears young black males talk about wanting to go to a federal penal institution instead of to a state jail.
“They say, ‘When I go to jail, I’d rather do federal time not state time,'” said Johnson. “They say, ‘The next time I go to jail, it will be to a federal jail – not a state jail.'”
Johnson said the three benefits that come from having a job are the respect of your family, the respect of your community and the respect for yourself.