Jack Stephens reflects on a 28-year careerJun 22nd, 2012 | By admin | Category: News
Think of everything that’s changed in your world in nearly 30 years, including home computers, business computers holding all records of a company, e-mails instead of mail, cell phones, phones with cameras, personal video cameras, flat screen TVs, 150 channels on satelitte TV.
And that’s how far our law enforcement agency has come since I became sheriff on July 1, 1984.
Who would have thought there would be a day when a young deputy couldn’t function in law enforcement if he or she understood nothing about the use of computers?
A few other things we didn’t have when I was first elected: a crack cocaine scurge, meth amphetamine, handguns with extended clips that can fire dozens of rounds in seconds, automatic rifles that are similar to machine guns.
But all those things came soon enough.
We had less than 200 people working for the Sheriff’s Office when I was sworn in. Today we have about 300, including enforcement personnel, our civil division, parish prison, and juvenile detention center. And we need all of them.
We answer 3,000 calls for service every month, all done in a fully computerized Communications Division. It documents every location and what happens, allowing us to call up a map of incidents on computer to study crime trends weekly and devote appropriate manpower to certain problem areas.
Because of Hurricane Katrina, records aren’t available any more on some things, such as the number of calls we handled in 1984, but I know it was a lot fewer than today and it involved filling out cards by hand to document them.
One noticeable trend over the years: As law enforcement adapted to new technology ranging from communication devices to better weapons, so did the bad guys.
Criminals learn to use new technology to their advantage. And weapons?
Many times in the early days I felt like criminals were better armed than local law enforcement.
It seemed that in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s our Sheriff’s Office was in danger of being overmatched at times by forces we had to contend with, such as criminals from New Orleans crossing the parish line to commit bank robberies and bring crack cocaine here for sale.
We had to do something.
One thought was to open sub-stations at parish entrances, meaning bad guys had to pass one going in and going out if they intended to commit a crime.
We had, in theory, the ability to close the parish entrances if there was a major crime and we were looking for a vehicle.
The need to suppress crime made it necessary to seek a tax to build a new Parish Prison and a Juvenile Detention Center, which voters approved. We also needed a tax, passed by voters, to upgrade the pay of sheriff’s deputies to compete with surrounding parishes.
And all that money was worth it.
The prison means you can keep more people who need to be incarcerated and the Juvenile Detention Center means bad kids don’t have the run of the parish, the way they did right after Katrina when they knew we had no way to hold them. Re-opening JDC a couple of years after the storm has made all the difference in this parish.
The backbone of good law enforcement involves several elements:
You need help by residents in the community who are the first eyes for seeing possible criminal activity and reporting it in a timely manner to the Sheriff’s Office so we can catch people in the act or right afterward. You also need trust by the public that you will quickly respond to calls for help and fight crime to protect them.
But you also need officers who are fit for the job, well-trained professionals and who want to do good – people who care about what happens here and want to keep this place safe.
I honestly feel we are currently putting our best team on the field at the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office. We have had more than 15 officers who were accepted and completed the rigorous FBI Training Academy in Virginia, which is a great accomplishment for a department our size.
And continued training maintains the standards we want in deputies.
I leave office June 30 after 28 years, re-elected six times after my first win in October 1983.
Best wishes to new Sheriff James Pohlmann, who takes office July 1.
Because of everything I’ve mentioned, I know the parish is in good hands.