D.A., sheriff stalled over traffic detail enforcement

Published 12:04 am Saturday, March 11, 2017

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish’s main players regarding increased traffic enforcement have exchanged proposals in hopes of restarting the dormant effort, but a resolution does not appear imminent.

Contention between law enforcement and some members within the court system began when Sheriff Mike Tregre suspended the Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (or L.A.C.E.) program in the summer of 2016, in which the District Attorney’s office funds overtime traffic enforcement patrol details that generate funds for the criminal justice system through fees and fines.

District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut said she is reluctant to restart the program without receiving a stronger commitment from the Sheriff’s Office that another suspension won’t soon follow.

In correspondence this month with Tregre, Dinvaut asked the sheriff to further articulate his department’s commitment to St. John the Baptist Parish residents and L.A.C.E.

“It will be difficult for me to predict or factor into any realistic amended District Attorney’s Office budget when you feel it is safe or not safe for off-duty deputies to work the paid detail,” Dinvaut said.

“Moreover, it is crucial to the success of L.A.C.E. that there be an intent by our offices to focus on working in a spirit of cooperation to promote the L.A.C.E. program, and not to create a working environment to frustrate the program, so much so that it fails to be positive and productive to facilitate its purpose for our Parish.”

In December Tregre proposed reinstating the program with altered conditions and safety precautions. Included in the proposal is a district attorney’s office-funded dispatcher that would handle all L.A.C.E.-related calls.

Patrols would cap at two deputies per shift, be relegated to daylight hours and concentrate on Airline Highway, U.S. 51, Belle Terre Boulevard and Interstate 10, as well as River Roads on both banks if necessary.

“If they had to respond to reach each other, they would be within a minute or two,” Tregre said.

Dinvaut said the timing of Tregre’s proposal in early December hampered her response because she was in the thick of finalizing her office’s 2017 budget, which runs the length of the calendar year.

Dinvaut said this month that the Sheriff’s request to use only two deputies per shift in daylight hours alters the previous plan and is too vague to be agreed upon at this time.

She also noted a “collateral issue arising out of the suspension of the L.A.C.E. program.”

“It was reported in the L’Observateur that you maintain that you ‘don’t’ know how the system came about to depend so greatly on traffic tickets for projected revenue, but added it puts a ‘tremendous burden’ on the Sheriff’s Office, which has done its part to help other government entities,” Dinvaut wrote.

“First, I take exception to your quote that ‘the Sheriff’s Office has done its part to help other government entities.’

“As public servants, parish leaders and elected public officials sworn to uphold the laws of this State and discharge our duties to the best of our abilities, our part is never done. We made an oath to the people we serve to put their best interest first regardless of challenges or personal feelings — our community family does not expect us to be perfect but they do trust us to continue to work hard and do our best to get the job done.”

In all, Dinvaut’s 5-page evaluation to Tregre’s re-instatement proposal was delivered to the Sheriff’s Office this month with a request for response.