The following answers were provided by Tim Lentz running for Sheriff in St. Tammany Parish:
I started my law enforcement career in 1982 volunteering as a Reserve with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office. The following year, I was hired fulltime as a deputy. I worked in a variety of different positions over a 30-year career, including but not limited to patrol, investigations, asset forfeiture, warrants and fugitives, crime lab, and fleet. I eventually worked my way up to the administration and retired as the Chief Deputy overseeing the day to day operations of the Sheriff’s Office. After my retirement in the beginning of 2013, I applied for and was selected the Chief of Police for the City of Covington. I took over a troubled department that was full of corruptions, police officers were getting arrested, community trust was lost, and law suits were abundant. I reformed the police department making it an award-winning agency, and nationally recognized for excellence.
In my humble opinion, the two challenges facing our parish is the opioid crisis, and our behavioral health issues. Last year in St. Tammany we lost 88 people to drug overdoses, and 52 people to suicide. In 2016 I brought Operation Angel to St. Tammany Parish, a program that allows those suffering from addiction to walk into my police department, surrender their drugs with no questions asked and simple say “I need help” and we will find a treatment program for them vs placing them in jail. Sadly, my two opponents don’t support this program but it has been highly successful. In the first year, 132 people walked into a law enforcement agency and asked for help, and we helped them find treatment. That is 132 people that you and I as tax payers didn’t have to pay for their incarceration and treatment while in jail, and they got a second chance at life. Of the individuals that have walked into the Covington Police Dept. and asked for help, 29% of them are clean and sober today. To help combat the two above problems, I am proposing one of my first hires as Sheriff will be a social worker(s). Law enforcement officers today have become the social workers of America, and that is a position we need to embrace. So, let’s put the proper people in place to address these issues. Social workers will work hand in hand with our deputies to make sure the individuals in need get the proper assistance. I also believe social workers can make a tremendous impact on the wellness of our deputies.
Not sure we need additional policies to address the above. Policies are in place to prevent racial profiling. Everyone should be policed the same regardless of their skin color. What I have done during my tenure as police chief is changed the training philosophy of the department. I didn’t focus tremendously on the officer’s ability to shoot a gun or their ability to write a report (although both very important skills) I brought in nationally recognized trainers to teach cultural diversity, racial bias, and de-escalation techniques. Let’s put the tools in their tool box that they will need on a daily basis. Your question is best answered by the proper training vs additional policies.
All inmates should be treated with dignity and respect. One of my platforms, is to reduce the size of the Parish Jail. Voters spoke loudly last year 3 different times that they were not going to provide and additional 10 million dollars, which accounts for about half of the funding for the jail. Why are we trying to continue to run a 20-million-dollar jail on 10 million dollars? Let’s get out of the housing inmates for profit business and return the DOC prisoners to the State. By reducing the size of the jail by half, you reduce your liabilities by half, and access to medical and metal health should become easier. Staffing the Jail with the proper medical staff is crucial in accomplishing this goal as well.
Much to my surprise, when the law changed earlier this year allowing convicted felons the opportunity to vote, somewhere around 30,000 people became eligible to vote, yet less than 1,000 took the opportunity to do so. I believe the key to the question is educating the individual when he/she arrives in the jail about the opportunity to vote. I would be extremely careful in addressing this issue as I would not want it to look like I am trying to influence an individual to register and vote for me. I would reach out to our Registrar of Voters and seek his assistance in accomplishing this task. Someone from the outside would be better suited than someone internally.
I believe it is extremely important to address problems vs responding to them. As a criminologist by education, we often look at theories of crime, why people commit crime. One of the theories we often talk about is called the Labeling Theory. We are all assigned labels in our life. Many we are proud of such as father, husband, or even chief of police. Sadly, when we get assigned the label of convicted felon, that label will follow you for the rest of your life. Our court system does an amazing job with specialty courts, but in order to get into one of those courts you have to be arrested first. That is one of the beauties about Operation Angel. It catches people before they get into the court system to avoid that label and hopefully, they will become a productive member of society. Anytime we can divert someone away from the criminal justice system and avoid a label, we have been successful.
Re-entry programs are so important, but you have to have an individual that truly wants to participate in the program. I sit on the La Prison Re-entry committee and we struggle finding induvials that want to participate. Our first cohort was 6 individuals. Four of them moved out of the state, and the other two didn’t want any part of the program. Somewhere along the line there needs to be an opportunity for those incarcerated to learn about the value of the program. They need to understand the value of learning a skill or a trade upon their release. Unfortunately, it appears we are failing in that aspect.
For developing police-community partnerships, it is all about building long lasting relationships in your community. You don’t do this by sitting in the office. You have to get out an meet the people. If a disaster or tragedy happens in your community and you are meeting the pastor at one of your local churches, or the school board superintendent, or the head of the NAACP for the first time, you have failed. You need to develop and cherish those relationships. Meet with your stakeholders regularly and have open and honest conversation with them. When I was Chief in Covington, we had an issued with young kids carrying guns. They were actually posting videos online. I went to every preacher, the head of the NAACP and asked for their help. I would much rather they police the kids in their neighborhood that the police department. At the end of the day, the best way to develop these partnerships is through building trust. When you screw up, admit it. The community will have a lot more respect for you than if you tried to cover