The Abita Springs, La., Board of Aldermen have voted to abolish the town’s police department and pay the St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s office to provide full-time police service.
About 100 residents filled Abita Springs Town Hall for a three-hour meeting Nov. 9 to hear their former police chief explain why the town should pay the sheriff’s department he now leads $189,000 a year for services it already provides.
At the mayor’s request, Sheriff Jack Strain submitted a proposal to provide round-the-clock coverage by stationing four deputies, on alternating shifts, at a town office or substation. At least one deputy would be available at all times.
The plan involves staffing the substation with a deputy with a rank of sergeant or greater. It would dissolve the town’s police department and replace its chief with a marshal. The mayor said Police Chief Thelma Naquin would resign on Dec. 31.
Mayor Louis Fitzmorris, who called the meeting, said the “economic reality” is the town can’t afford to provide its own police service at the level the sheriff can. “Am I 100 percent sure this will work? Of course not,” he said.
Alderman Calvin Cognevich, Jonathan Davis and Troy Dugas voted to let the mayor and town attorney negotiate a deal based on the proposal. Aldermen Patricia Edmiston and Regina Benton opposed the measure.
The sheriff readily acknowledged that his agency is obligated to protect all of St. Tammany Parish, including its municipalities and unincorporated areas: “We have to provide this service no matter what,” he said.
But he emphasized the advantages of his proposal, says his office has the ability to absorb liability and could quicken average response times from 8 to 10 minutes to 7 to 8 minutes.
Fitzmorris asked Strain to create the proposal in preparation for next year’s budget. He delivered it to the Board of Aldermen about three weeks ago and asked them to consider it as a cost-effective alternative.
Naquin’s current budget is $260,378, which includes her salary and that of four other officers. She prepared a $519,478 spending proposal that adds raises, new equipment and additional staff such as a secretary and a new officer.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, www.timespicayune.com.
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