Tregre: Our lives are changing
Well, only half of the year has gone by, and it is already one for the history books. COVID-19 brought out the best and the worst in all of us. There were some very difficult decisions to be made by leaders who must try to do what’s best for the majority of the people they govern.
Then came the video of the horrifying murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement officers. The video was difficult to watch, while his death would not allow us to look away. And as a law enforcement officer for 32 years and the leader of SJSO for the past eight years, I am subjected to and I deal with the hatred, the rejection and the blame that gets painted (with a broad brush) over the men and women in blue.
Both of these significant events in the past six months will change the shape and course of our lives forever.
No longer will we walk up to a person we have not seen in a while or someone we just saw last week and hug them. No longer will we reach out a hand to shake another hand by way of introduction. The Southern hospitality of striking up conversation with strangers in an elevator is lost due to no one wanting to talk in close quarters.
And it may be the death of George Floyd that will force lawmakers to provide some much-needed and reasonable reform in our justice system. I want tell the people of St. John what I have done and will continue to do as sheriff, in order to take responsibility for my actions and the actions of my officers. My office seeks to ensure that our citizens never experience this type of brutality at the hands of a uniformed officer.
Four years ago, I started the first ever St. John Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Academy. During this nine-class program, citizens learn how we hire and train the officers of the department. Every department spends one class session giving the citizens a complete look at inside operations. If a citizen attends our academy they are more likely to understand the day-to-day operations of the whole department. April 2020 was set to be our largest registered class with almost 40 participants before COVID-19 ruined it.
Our Distinguished Gentleman’s Club is led by police officers that volunteer with young men from eighth to 12th grade after school hours. The club seeks to create a good relationship between officers and young adults so that they know us as the good guys. The organization had a record 60-plus members this year before COVID-19 cancelled school.
Last year, I recognized the need for officer training outside of the typical strategies. I sent four officers to an instructor certification course known as the RITE Academy (Racial Intelligence Training and Engagement). This course specialized in diversity and cultural sensitivity training. Once they were certified, I authorized overtime hours for every officer in the department to undergo the training provided by our certified officers.
In closing, as a black father, I don’t have the privilege of feeling comfortable that my son would never be in the same position as George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery or any other victims of injustice we have witnessed. But as a law enforcement leader, I have the vision and supplied the training to decrease the chances of this happening in my parish to the people I have sworn to protect and serve.
My prayers are for unity, peace and change.
Mike Tregre is the sheriff of St. John the Baptist Parish and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 985.652.9513.