St. John sheriff’s candidates tout plans for safety, ethics

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

From now until Oct. 8, L’Observateur will be featuring questions-and-answers format stories with the sheriff’s candidates in St. John the Baptist Parish as well as parish president candidates in both St. John and St. James parishes. The first installment features candidates for sheriff in St. John Parish.

(Editor’s note: St. John sheriff candidate Aaron Lions has been out of town with a family emergency and was unable to return the questionnaire in time for publication. L’Observateur hopes to run his responses when he returns.)

Violent crime seems to be on the rise in St. John the Baptist Parish. What will you do to address this situation?

Wayne Jones: In relationship to the recent homicides that occurred relatively close together, I put together a specialized task force to work solely on solving these crimes because obtaining citizen cooperation and assistance is invaluable. My office has arrested those we believe to be responsible for the recent murders. I intend to continue to expand training and interacting with the community to assist in solving crimes of this type. In addition, my office is researching ways to offer protection to potential witnesses that would include involving the district attorney’s office and the courts. My office continues to find solutions for after-school activities and positive interaction with the youth of our parish. Our Young Marines program is very successful and is one of the many programs we have implemented. Keeping our youths busy after school hours and on weekends with extracurricular activities gives them guidance and leadership to make positive choices in the right direction.

Mike Tregre: As your sheriff, I think that the rise is violent crime can be addressed several ways. First and foremost, we must rebuild our relationship in the community. If the citizens know and trust the officers who patrol their neighborhood, then they will feel comfortable coming forward with information about crimes as soon as they happen. Rarely should we read a story in the newspaper about a stabbing or shooting with several witnesses present who refused to give information to the officers investigating the incident. Second, I will work very closely with the DA’s office during the investigation of the incident and after the investigation is completed to ensure that a conviction is obtained. All too often we hear about arrests for crimes, but the convictions of the suspects are not as commonly reported. In my time at the DA’s office, I have noted many cases where the charges were dismissed for various reasons. Convictions must be the No. 1 priority of an officer as he puts handcuffs on a suspect.

It seems corruption among law enforcement officers remains a problem in offices across the country. What will you do to ensure the employees of the St. John Sheriff’s Office do not abuse their power?

WJ: This is true. While this department and many others have stringent hiring requirements, we must hire from the human population. With such, there is a chance that a “bad apple” will appear. The key is, when discovered, swift appropriate action is taken. This includes terminating and prosecuting these “bad apples.” I have and will continue to implement additional hiring requirements along with checks and balances.

MT: This problem can be addressed several ways. First, a thorough background check must be made on all officers applying to work at SJSO. If you are coming from another agency, then good references will be the key to employment in St. John. Many officers will leave one job for another due to better pay, better hours or other benefits, and this is just fine. Second, I will implement a citizen review board, which will be made up of SJSO staff and citizens. This board will review all complaints that come to the SJSO on every officer. Anything from the use of profanity on traffic stops to excessive physical abuse during an arrest will be recorded. If an officer frequently files charges for resisting arrest, then an evaluation of that officer’s ability to de-escalate a hostile situation needs to be conducted. Thirdly, just as the FBI uses integrity checks to reward or discipline an officer’s behavior, I will implement a similar program to deter corruption in my administration.

For a sheriff’s office, a good relationship with the district attorney and court system is a must. What will you do to foster and strengthen this relationship?

WJ: This is very true. It is essential for justice to be served. I am proud of the relationship we have with our district attorney’s office and the courts. As evidence of this positive relationship, more cases are moving through the criminal justice system with positive effects – more convictions. I will continue my support of ongoing training with my staff and the district attorney’s prosecutors. I have assigned commissioned officers to the district attorney’s office with many years experience to work alongside prosecutors assisting them in cases for trial. These officers coordinate communication and cooperation between the Sheriff’s Office and the district attorney’s office. I also request that the courts set higher bonds on defendants who are multiple offenders or who have committed serious offenses. As stated, I will continue to work with the district attorney’s office and the court system to ensure repeat offenders are taken off of the streets and discuss other methods with school board officials and school administrators. We must all work together and cohesively.

MT: I will work diligently with the DA and his staff during and after an arrest is made to ensure that a conviction for the apprehended suspect is obtained. It is very important that the minute an officer puts hand cuffs on a suspect, that officer should start to envision what he will say in a court of law six months to a year from now. I will work with the DA on training for all officers on courtroom preparation and testimony. Sometimes cases are lost based on the testimony of the officer on the stand. Hence, guilty suspects walk free on our streets. This is part of the reason why there are criminals arrested 36 times in one parish, occasionally for the same type of crime. I would like the judges to have information on the past history of a suspect when setting bonds, especially for the same type of crime over and over. That way, we will work as a team to make St. John a safe place to live.

(Continued Saturday)