Hemelt: Public safety awareness special shines light on issue

Published 11:45 pm Friday, July 25, 2014

The River Parishes aren’t unlike other regions in that we gobble up news concerning public safety and crime.

You could say things seem extra busy right now, but is there ever really a time when they are not?

The second-degree murder trial of Errol Victor Sr. and Tonya Victor, charged in the death of M.L. Lloyd III, started this week with the Victors representing themselves.

Lloyd, who was Tonya’s son and Errol’s stepson, was pronounced dead at River Parishes Hospital in April 2008.

Many in the region know of the story, which attained national acclaim in 2011 when the accused couple was featured on “America’s Most Wanted” after they skipped a scheduled court appearance while free on bond.

Whether we know the people or communities involved, there is a natural pull to the public safety news that impacts us all.

In response to that reality, L’OBSERVATEUR produced a special section on public safety in today’s edition.

Highlighted in the effort is our front-page spotlight feature on St. John District Attorney Tom Daley’s multi-faceted approach to eliminate repeat offenders.

Reported with the help of Assistant District Attorney Phil Maple and The Rev. Neil Bernard, pastor of New Wine Christian Fellowship, the program is the latest, and in my opinion, best hope at reducing the rate of repeat offenders.

That is all-to-common theme when reports of gun violence, murder, assault and theft splatter across the news pages of L’OBSERVATEUR.

In today’s edition alone, the St. John the Baptist Sheriff’s Office acknowledges that a suspect implicated this month in the distribution of cocaine and possession of marijuana has been arrested 21 times since October 1990 — DANG, that works out to almost once a year over a two-and-a-half decade stretch.

This is a community-as-a-whole problem, one that will take teamwork from any number of sources to gain control.

Key in that approach is communication between law enforcement and community members.

When I attended the Rotary Club of LaPlace’s annual Pups in the Park event this summer, one St. John deputy told me the event was essential for the department’s K-9 unit to attend because it gave officers an opportunity to interact with the community, especially children, in a friendly environment.

It’s amazing to think in some of our community’s high-crime areas, many residents with pertinent information on criminal activity refuse to share that understanding with law enforcement, in the process protecting the very people who terrorize their neighbors and themselves.

It’s incumbent on law enforcement to bridge that divide. The St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office has recently rolled out a tips hotline and redesigned website, both offering options for anonymous sharing. Stories about each are featured in today’s newspaper.

The St. James and St. Charles sheriff’s offices are each featured in today’s edition with stories explaining how one is staying connected with community members in times of emergency and the other detailing how parents can help deputies keep our youth occupied and away from negative influences.

Outside of law enforcement, there are many in the community who work with our youth on a personal level so our pre-teens and teenagers mature into responsible adults.

East St. John football coach Phillip Banko, someone who has coached in the professional and college ranks, knows part of his job is to win football games, but the main role is to serve as a leader of young men.

Those two jobs, he said, go hand in hand.

“We get them as young boys, and we’ve got four years to help mold them into young men, who go off to college, who join the military, who enter the workplace,” Banko said.

Pastor Bernard works with children on a younger level by sponsoring an annual summer camp that serves the whole community but has a special emphasis on children from single-parent homes and those who have an incarcerated parent.

No child should be left behind, and many are doing their part to make sure it never happens.

An index of our special coverage is included on today’s front page. A special thank you goes to our advertising sponsors who allowed us the chance to tell these all-important stories. Please support their efforts when possible.

Stephen Hemelt is general manager and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.