Funding shrinks as St. John sheriff pulls deputies from enforcement program

Funding shrinks as St. John sheriff pulls deputies from enforcement program
Published: Sep. 13, 2016 at 1:35 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2016 at 1:43 AM CDT
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LAPLACE, LA (WVUE) - In St. John the Baptist Parish, the number of traffic tickets are down, nearly cut in half compared to last year in the last month.

According to District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut, that's because Sheriff Mike Tregre suspended the LACE program, an initiative that pays off-duty deputies to write traffic tickets in the parish.

Those fines fund multiple agencies across the parish, including the Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney, but none more so than the Public Defender's Office, which gets 85 percent of its funding through court costs and the largest source comes from traffic tickets.

Dinvaut said fewer tickets means fewer dollars for the Public Defender's Office.

"It is a huge impact on anybody's criminal justice system, because without public defenders, without attorneys representing those accused of crimes, the system can't be effective. It will slow down to a halt," Dinvaut said.

It's already stifling the Public Defender's Office. Over the weekend, one attorney resigned and now the chief of the office is asking the rest of the attorneys to forgo supplemental pay at least until the end of the year.

The program was suspended on July 18, a day after the Baton Rouge Police shootings.

Sheriff Tregre said he put the program on hold to keep his deputies safe. In an emailed statement he wrote:

"The recent homicide of several officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge was the one and only reason that prompted me to this decision. And it was strictly regarding the safety of my officers. During a time when men and women are targeted simply because of the uniform and badge they wear, I felt it was necessary to take precautionary measures."

But Dinvaut said the State Police also operate the same LACE program through her office, and their patrols haven't stopped.

"They have not abandoned their commitment to public safety, public welfare and highway safety. They understand the importance of traffic enforcement, especially in this corridor across St. John the Baptist Parish," Dinvaut said.

In his email Tregre wrote:

"I will never give up fighting crime and neither will my officers. It's offensive to insinuate that they would when they continue to get up and put the badge on despite the current atmosphere regarding police officers. I am extremely proud to serve beside the men and women who protect St. John."

Dinvaut said Tregre didn't notify her he was pulling his deputies off of the program for nearly a month until she started asking questions herself.

Tregre said in an email that he advised all parties involved last week, nearly eight weeks after he suspended the program.

Now Dinvaut wants to do whatever it takes to make sure the Sheriff feels safe about letting his deputies enforce traffic laws as part of the LACE program.

"It is something we have to address. Maybe we can address it through training, maybe through time frames, but it has to happen. If it does not happen, how is the public defender's office going to be funded?" Dinvaut questioned.

Sheriff Tregre said the suspension is only temporary, but he did not provide an immediate timetable on when the patrols would return to the parish.

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