Sheriff Stephens receives the Harry Lee AwardMar 29th, 2011 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: News
“I feel the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office has now survived the challenges posed by the Hurricane and its aftermath, and I am confident the leadership within the Department, who served so proudly and courageously during our darkest hour, will continue their efforts to maintain the integrity of our community and to safeguard its residents.”
- Jack A. Stephens
St. Bernard Parish Sheriff
On the same day he received the Harry Lee Award from Crimestoppers Inc. honoring his career, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack A. Stephens – second longest-serving sheriff in St. Bernard Parish history – officially announced he will not seek re-election to an eighth term this October.
Now in office 27 years with more than a year to go before his seventh term ends June 30, 2012, Stephens, 62, is currently the longest-serving sheriff in Louisiana.
According to parish historian William Hyland, only Esteve Nunez, who served as St. Bernard Parish sheriff from 1879 until his death in 1909, has had a longer tenure in office as sheriff.
Stephens took office July 1, 1984, at the age of 35 after beating incumbent Sheriff Ralph McDougal in October 1983, and has since been re-elected six times, most recently in 2007.
The official announcement, in the form of a message to the citizens of St. Bernard Parish, came on March 17, the same day Crimestoppers Inc. of Greater New Orleans honored Stephens with its Sheriff Harry Lee Criminal Justice Award at its luncheon in New Orleans to recognize Stephens’ career.
Lee served as Jefferson Parish sheriff from 1980 until his death in 2007.
“I had deep affection and respect for him,’’ Sheriff Stephens said of Sheriff Lee as he accepted the award from Crimestoppers President and CEO Darlene Cusanza. He noted at the podium that Lee was the first sheriff in the New Orleans area to call and congratulate him after Stephens’ first election.
“Sheriff Lee was always there for me,’’ Stephens said. He said he considered it “the culmination of my career in law enforcement’’ to receive an award that honors Lee’s memory.
Cusanza, whose organization is celebrating 30 years of offering rewards for information on crime in the area – leading to numerous arrests – said the Sheriff Harry Lee Award is given “in recognition of someone who has served the community in the criminal justice arena.’’
“(Stephens) has been a wonderful friend and ally to Crimestoppers over the years,’’ said Cusanza. “He supported and assisted in lobbying for a $2 court fee in cases to help the reward process (for Crimestoppers) reach up to $2,500 and has provided someone to work with us to forward information for investigation.’’
Reflecting on his 27 years in office and retirement, Sheriff Stephens said: “Seven terms is a long time. The Sheriff’s Office is in good shape now and can function fine without me.’’
Stephens admitted that he considered retiring after his last term but decided to run again in the fall of 2007 to finish rebuilding the Sheriff’s Office in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He won a runoff.
The sheriff, who previously received a major honor in law enforcement in August 2008 when he was inducted into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame, said he feels he has accomplished the mission of rebuilding the department after the hurricane.
“Things are running smoothly’’ and for the most part crime has been suppressed, he said, as the Sheriff’s Office has restored nearly all of its components that were there prior to the storm. “Anything I have achieved as sheriff has always been because of the work of the men and women of the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office.’’
“I have always been proud of our aggressive approach to law enforcement,’’ that has led to St. Bernard being one of the safest, if not the safest, parish in Southeast Louisiana, he said. “Through good times and bad the Sheriff’s Office has kept the community safe.’’
“And we rebuilt our department and worked to give the people of this community the opportunity to rebuild their lives here after the hurricane, knowing they weren’t likely to be a victim of serious crime,’’ Sheriff Stephens said.
He said much of the credit for parish safety “goes to residents who have been so good about trusting us to report suspicious activity they see. They know we will act on what they report.’’
“We haven’t suffered from the violent crime seen in other areas,’’ he said. Streets have remained safe because so much effort by officers of the Sheriff’s Office goes into stopping street corner drug-dealing, he said. “If you are dealing an ounce or a pound we handle it the same way.’’
The sheriff also said he is proud of several other developments over the years, including
- There has not been a police officer murdered in the line of duty in his tenure.
- There also has not been a sustained civil rights complaint against the Sheriff’s Office.
- The re-opening of the adult prison and juvenile detention center after the hurricane was extremely important for law enforcement in St. Bernard Parish. When there was no way to hold juvenile offenders and many were released to the custody of parents or guardians directly after the storm there were numerous problems with youngsters involved in burglaries, thefts and drug-dealing. Those problems decreased severely when the juvenile center opened, the sheriff said.
“I feel the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office has now survived the challenges posed by the Hurricane and its aftermath, and I am confident the leadership within the Department, who served so proudly and courageously during our darkest hour, will continue their efforts to maintain the integrity of our community and to safeguard its residents,” Stephens said in his official announcement. “It has been a privilege to work with the men and women of the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office who are dedicated to serving the citizens of St. Bernard Parish and keeping them safe. I wish to extend my sincerest thanks to the employees of the Sheriff’s Office for their continued hard work and commitment to protecting St. Bernard and keeping it one of the safest communities in our area.”