Larpenter takes oath; anticipates leaner times
After pledging to uphold the duties of his office for the eighth time since 1985, Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter told his deputies to be prepared for times he predicted to be “lean and mean.”
The lean reference was to the economic state of affairs he must manage – and that they must work with – as his new term began July 1. “Mean” was a reference to the state of affairs on parish streets and highways, as gun violence surges and a local economy in turmoil seeds more crime that will keep deputies busier than ever.
Terrebonne Parish Clerk of Court Theresa Robichaux administered the oath to Larpenter Friday morning at the agency’s rifle range on Savanne Road, where jail trustys had prepared a lunch for officials, deputies and guests. The veteran lawman was unopposed in his quest for re-election last year.
The new term tops off Larpenter’s 22 years in office, a stint that began in 1985 and was interrupted in 2007, when he sought to become parish president, leaving the office to Vernon Bourgeois. In 2012 Larpenter reclaimed the office from a retiring Bourgeois, a term that ended in 2015.
Speaking to deputies after taking his oath, Larpenter outlined priorities and formally announced key promotions within his department, some necessitated by the departures of key leaders following resignations due to indiscretions committed during Bourgeois’ administration that landed them charges related to theft of federal money due to what was alleged to have been fraudulent record keeping.
Larpenter laments the losses of Darryll Stewart, who headed up his narcotics division, and Dawn Foret, second-in-command of the detective division and considered a highly-competent public information officer. But he expressed high confidence in the ranking officers he elevated to take their positions.
The chief focus of Larpenter’s talk – and the priorities as he begins his new term – concerned the need for deputies to tackle predicted increases in crime with less money, while likely foregoing raises. The combination of fiscal woes in state government and in the local economy is expected to take a steep toll, he said. He spoke to the assembled deputies privately, with no media representatives present, but provided The Times highlights of what was discussed.
• Sales taxes, an important component of Larpenter’s budget, are expected to continue on a downward spiral.
• Lack of jobs for state inmates has resulted in the closure of the parish’s work-release program, run by a private company, which will cause Larpenter’s department to take a $600,000 revenue hit.
• The rate paid by the Louisiana Department of Corrections for housing state inmates is dropping from $24 per day to $22 per day.
During his first 22 years in office, Larpenter built up a considerable nest egg to cover contingencies. Bourgeois took a different approach upon succeeding him for the one term, wiping out a substantial chunk of savings. After resuming office in 2012, Larpenter ended up having to take out a loan to meet payroll.
“I borrowed $3 million to make payroll,” he said. ‘I also built up my money market account. As of now, we are 15 or 16 percent short sales taxes. I am trying not to have my expenditures be more than my revenues coming in. I am telling my employees when they can for some events to carpool.”
“The biggest priority is probably toughest challenge, with the economy the way it is right now,” the sheriff said. “The economy is in a down-fall while our society is getting meaner, our streets are getting more violent. We must curtail the violence in our parish that has been going on.”
Murders are nothing new to the region or the parish, Larpenter said, noting the body count related to serial killer Ronald Dominique, which he placed regionally at 23. But source of many current shootings, some of them fatal, is, Larpenter acknowledged, unprecedented.
WORSE BEFORE BETTER
The sheriff lashed out at the current leadership in Washington D.C., suggesting that lack of support from the Obama administration for law enforcement is having an effect on both officer morale and the emboldening of street criminals.
“I foresee that things are going to get worse before they get better,” Larpenter said, noting a dire situation for the Department of Corrections.
“There are 36,000 state prisoners across Louisiana,” he said. “Sheriffs are housing 18,000 of those prisoners across the state. That means half of the state prisoners are being housed by the sheriff’s offices.”
Considering the cost of maintaining state prisoners in his jail, and the need for more open beds because of high rates of crime locally, Larpenter said he could foresee doing away with taking state inmates altogether, or at least severely curtailing the number taken in. Larpenter also envisions a need to cut down on the use of inmate labor for cleaning and maintaining public buildings and those of charitable organizations, due to the costs associated with such projects.
The sheriff also said he does not predict a rapid comeback for the oil-and-gas support industry, which has kept Terrebonne rolling for decades since the oil bust of the 1980s.
Larpenter did touch on some bright spots. Several major projects have been completed or are near completion, including interior renovation of the jail, the moving of female inmates from the jail to the former juvenile detention center next door, and re-building of the rifle range and training center. A new computer system long in the works is going online soon, and a new camera system is in place.
He also stressed that his department’s greatest asset is its rank and file, and he expects that his deputies are up to the challenges the next few years will bring.
FBI PROBE ENDED
In particular, Larpenter expressed optimism regarding the appointments he made to fill voids left to federally-prosecuted personnel.
Capt. Dawn Foret and Maj. Daryl Stewart were the targets of a four-year-long FBI investigation that resulted in each drawing a single federal charge of theft. Stewart admitted that he drew pay for drug enforcement duties funded by a federal grant when he was not present; Foret was scheduled to enter a guilty plea Tuesday to a similar charge involving a federally-funded program aimed at targeting underage drinking. In both cases, the deputies had logged federal program time while working on paid extra-duty details for private companies. The surrenders of Foret and Stewart are now considered to be the end of the matter.
“They were good people and they were lost by their own actions,” Larpenter said, noting that it took federal authorities four years to complete their investigation.
“I can’t wait four years to charge somebody,” he observed. “From when they started looking at it no new information came out. We would never take four years to build a case. But we have an excellent detective bureau.”
“I do have people to take their place that I feel are as competent or qualified as the two I lost.”
Maj. Terry Daigle has taken over the narcotics division, with Derrick “Dawg” Collins as his number two. Capt. Cody Voisin is now the assistant chief of detectives. Maj. Malcolm Wolfe remains chief of detectives, a position Larpenter said he has held and handled admirably.
As for doing less with more, Larpenter is confident residents will not see the most important services, affirming, “We will have to maintain what we have got and just keep on going,”