Our View: Duplantis’ contributions should be recognized

Timing is everything.

Unfortunately for Houma Police Chief Todd Duplantis, the timing of a settlement in the case brought by Sgt. Kyle Faulk coincides with a lot of other things, not the least of which is a pending changing of the guard in the office of the Parish President.

We have no opinion in regard to the merits of Faulk’s case. If, as some supporters of Duplantis allege, the legal work done on his behalf did not include certain challenges that might have made for a different outcome, we don’t feel qualified to comment.

But we can comment on the record of service Duplantis is leaving, and echo hopes that his tenure as Houma Police Chief will be remembered for the benefits Houma has received, rather than for the rancor that he inherited.

A change in the law permitting the parish president to by-pass civil service requirements in choosing a chief was not of Duplantis’ choosing, by all available accounts. That the move was heavy-handed, designed to address a very specific local situation and steeped in political expedience is apparent and provable, by nature of its built in sunset. No attempt has been made to make the law permanent, which indicates it was not such a good idea from a standing public policy perspective.

The situational ethics involved added fuel to an already raging fire within the department.

Mention of this is not intended as any indictment of Parish President Michel Claudet. What becomes evident in reviews of documents and interviews, as indicated in the story that runs today, is that runaway leadership in the department required addressing.

That’s where Duplantis comes in.

Duplantis – as indicated in critiques of HPD from two different consultants – is responsible for many positive outcomes. Now as when he first took over the department, however, he was not successful so much as we might have hoped in providing the kind of leadership that extinguishes most hints of opposition. Perhaps nobody could.

As the consultant reports show, however, that didn’t stop him from completing many other tasks.

We see his situation in a light comparable to the late President Gerald Ford. With leadership thrust upon him in one of the darker hours of U.S. history, as a disgraced Richard Nixon made his skulking exit, Ford took the reins of power and accomplished many things. He was arguably the right man in the right place at the right time to guide the nation to where it had to be. The nation as a whole, history shows, chose a different chief executive when given the opportunity. But that doesn’t take away from the accomplishments Ford has to his credit, including final winding down of the Vietnam War and signing of the Helsinki Accords.

Duplantis, likewise, accomplished much at a difficult time, despite obstacles.

While he was unable to quell all of the discord within the department during his tenure, it must be remembered that much of this was inside baseball, mattering more to the individual personalities within the department than to the men, women and children of Houma who depend on the organization for their protection.

Where Duplantis made a big difference has to do with a changing of the culture at HPD, by placing key people in roles allowing outreach to the public at large.

Incidents that could have resulted in violent altercations in some Houma neighborhoods were stemmed in large part by the ability of Duplantis and others in the department to communicate effectively and draw on the public trust they had banked over time.

The tremendous documented success of the neighborhood watch program in Houma, the tactical deployment of personnel such as use of the bicycle patrol to thwart auto burglaries and other innovations are the result of the broad charge given Duplantis by Claudet, to address problems and fix them.

We commend Duplantis for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors.