How will Opelousas' new police chief keep the city safe? Here's what the candidates said.
Both candidates for Opelousas chief of police agree that the city they seek to protect has a gun crime problem.
How to fix it is where incumbent chief Martin McLendon and Graig LeBlanc somewhat disagree.
The two law enforcement veterans who opposed one another in the 2018 election, have appeared in two recent political forums sponsored by the St. Landry Parish Democratic Party, where they have expressed their somewhat divergent views on how they will make the city of about 18,000 residents feel more secure.
During separate interviews ahead of a Wednesday night forum held at the Delta Grand in Opelousas, McLendon and LeBlanc provided insight on how they plan to make the city safer following the Nov. 8 election.
PREVIOUSLY:'Our kids are destroying each other': Parish leaders address juvenile crime issues
McLendon said again as he has over the past several months that he’s not immune to the sound of gunshots being fired from semi-automatic and modified weaponry because he lives within an area where his officers often respond to gunfire complaints.
What’s needed to combat the spike in citywide gunfire, which at times has poured into residents’ homes and property, is more manpower, McLendon said.
“To fight violent crime, you need the manpower that we don’t have right now. We need to be able to attract individuals who want to become officers. What a young officer makes in Opelousas right (now) is not enough. We are not able to pay the salaries that are needed to fully staff the department,” McLendon pointed out.
MORE:Opelousas police may get upgrade, more officers with $650,000 grant
McLendon remembers when the city police force had 60 officers. That number has decreased to a current 39 officers, he pointed out. The officers are committed to reversing violence but many of them are young, McLendon said, and some earn $13 an hour that the city pays rookies. .
The department, McLendon admitted, has paid its share of costs for personnel.
However, McLendon added, much of the departmental personnel expenditures come from paying retiring officers large accumulated sums for annual leave, leaving less in the budget for hiring new officers who want to join the force.
McLendon has also said that grant funding has enabled the department to install more security cameras inside particularly high crime areas as a way to more accurately detect real-time incidents.
RELATED:Opelousas Police Department asks city for video surveillance funding to help deter crime
Increased training for his officers, McLendon said, is also needed in addition to assistance from anti-crime technology that is available through more grants.
“What we also need is help from the public. They might see something or they might know something that is valuable to us in gaining more information about these crimes,” said McLendon also noted that the 2022 campaign is also about trust.
“I think voters need to ask themselves who they trust the most protecting themselves and their children,” McLendon added.
CRIME IN ST. LANDRY:A growing number of juveniles are being accused of crimes. There's not enough room to hold them.
LeBlanc, a former Opelousas police officer who has worked as a narcotics officer and on tactical crime teams with the Sheriff’s Department, said that he wants to fight violent crime with programs that have succeeded in cities larger than Opelousas.
Openly expressing his support for LeBlanc is City Marshal Paul Mouton.
“We have violent crime in this city that is coupled with a lack of experienced officers. Starting in January of 2023 when I become the chief, I plan to begin putting two initiatives in place that have worked elsewhere and train officers better,” LeBlanc said.
One of those programs is what LeBlanc called Project Safe Neighborhoods
“What this does is allow a department to obtain the funding resources available to combat and investigate violent crimes by putting your officers concentrated inside the areas where the most violent crimes are occurring,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said his research has also introduced him to another anti-violent crime initiative labeled Operation Ceasefire, which LeBlanc said has made a difference in reducing violence in Oakland, California.
“In Oakland, Operation Ceasefire began in 2012 and by 2018 the statistics show that crime in that city was reduced by 51 percent. The money for Operation Ceasefire comes from a federal grant which allows for better strategic planning where the crime originates and provides for both short and long-term results,” said LeBlanc.
LeBlanc explained that the basic idea woven into Operation Ceasefire includes prevention and intervention, where a police department works closely with adolescents who are inclined towards violent crimes.
What Opelousas also needs, LeBlanc explained, is more focus on addressing social and mental illness issues affecting Opelousas. “Many of the problems that we have start at home and those sometimes turn into high crime risk cases. We are going to work with that and we think that will reduce violent crime,” LeBlanc added.