Sheriff hopefuls at W. Crowley forum

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Candidates, community leaders united in urging residents to go vote

Howell Dennis
News Editor
Crowley Post-Signal

Dozens of West Crowley residents filled the seats in the Martin Luther King Jr. Center Tuesday night to hear the candidates for Acadia Parish sheriff answer questions from the mostly African-American area of the city.
Other speakers addressed the crowd as well. Each of them stressed the importance of voting to as a means of making “real, effective change” to their districts.
Dr. Ezora Proctor welcomed those in attendance.
“We want a different perspective about the political process ... we need you to vote and vote right,” she said. “It’s time to silence those who say our voice doesn’t count.
“This is a new day in West Crowley. Things will no longer be the same.”
Dee Handy urged the gathering to avoid remaining silent.
“Get out and say what you have to say,” she said. “Say what you know is right. We have politicians who say they’re going to this and say they’re going to do that and don’t follow through. It’s time for them to hear us.”
Rev. Keith Matthews thanked Police Juror-elect Danny Hebert and Acadia Parish School Board member Rev. James Proctor for being present to speak even though they “had no opposition.”
“There are others who were invited but for some reason or another they chose not to (attend),” he said.
Hebert, who won the District 1 seat by default when former Police Juror Al Stevenson was disqualified from the race due to failure to report campaign finances, assured those in attendance that he would serve both District 1 and the city to the best of his ability.
“I’m very sorry for what happened to Mr. Stevenson,” he said. “I can’t control that but I’m here to serve you. That’s why I ran.”
James Proctor joked that he thought his career as a public servant had ended but that when people began to ask him to fill the seat that was vacated when former School Board Member Israel Syria died, eventually he felt compelled to say “yes.”
“I’d like to thank the citizens of West Crowley for having faith in me and not having any opposition,” he said with a laugh. “I’m getting old and all the walking (involved in a campaign) would have been a bit much. I will serve to the best of my ability and hope to help make Acadia Parish the state’s number one school system.”
Vernon “Step” Martin, who served as the forum’s moderator, then introduced sheriff candidates K.P. Gibson and Keith Latiola. Each was given time for a three minute introduction, followed by five questions and a two minute closing remark.
“I’ve been involved in law enforcement for 25 years, the last 13 I’ve had the honor of serving as Crowley’s Police Chief,” said Gibson.
Gibson discussed the improvements made at the Crowley Police Department, which he said was badly in need of an upgrade in technology when he took over. He stated that the improvements cost over $2 million, none of which was tax payer money.
“Criminal activity in society is getting worse,” he said. “I’m not blind to that. Who would have thought we’d have a theater shooting 20 miles away? We always thought those things took place in other parts of the country.
“We need new leadership. We need more than four cars patrolling Acadia Parish at night.”
Latiola then took the podium.
“I’m a 35-year veteran of the sheriff’s department,” he said. “I began as a reserve deputy and have been through training, having graduated from training with the FBI and the DEA.
“The sheriff is involved in more than enforcement. There is the budget, our jail and tax collection. I have amassed over 1,000 hours of training in these areas.”
The first question posed to the candidates was “Why do you each want to be sheriff of Acadia Parish?”
“I want to reduce the redundancy in our department and to be responsible to our citizens,” Latiola responded. “I want our deputies to be trained properly, to treat each and every citizen the same ... with dignity and respect.
“I am well-trained and prepared to get these things done and I want our citizens to know that they can trust us to be there for them.”
“We seem to be working too often within our own jurisdictions,” said Gibson. “We (Acadia Parish municipalities) need to unite, stand and work together as law enforcement officers. I want to see more manpower and more patrols. Under new leadership and working together we can accomplish these goals.
The second question was, “What is your vision for the future of the sheriff’s office and what is your plan of action to make it a reality?”
“With over 100 employees, we need more in enforcement,” said Gibson. “We need more than four deputies on patrol and more than two officers in narcotics. We need more.
“We need more jail space and improved communication. I will work within the law to protect you, your property and your families.”
“The safety of our children is this position’s most important function,” said Latiola. “I will be a working sheriff. I will be a leader that goes into the community and makes sure we have the resources necessary to do our job.
“We need to reduce duplication, which can be done by reassigning officers. This will make us stronger.
“My department would see high transparency, where tax payers will see where there money is going and no crimes will be unreported.”
The third question posed was, “If you lose this election will you support the winner to make his vision a reality?”
“Well, I don’t plan on losing,” said Latiola to the laughter of those in attendance, “but I would be courteous and professional. I would assist in the transition because that is the right thing to do.”
“Well, I’ve already had the opportunity to lose this election,” joked Gibson in reference to his second-place finish to Sheriff Wayne Melancon in 2007. “I cooperated with Sheriff Melancon and we have worked together. The people’s voice is what’s important. We would work together. We’re opponents now but we would stand together later.”
“The final question this evening will be a tough one,” said Martin. “What, in your opinion, are the biggest failures of the sheriff’s department in the last eight years and how will you correct them?”
“That question is hard because we are looking at areas where we can improve,” said Gibson. “I would never throw a fellow officer under the bus. My main concern is how do we improve moving forward to make sure we serve as your guardians of the parish.”
“I don’t believe our officers are failures,” said Latiola. “I presently don’t have the final say so. We had a narcotics task force that was disbanded a few years back. We need to attack the drug trade. Not just the street dealers, but by targeting the bigger fish. And if federal charges can be brought we need to get the DEA involved. I will utilize all of our assets to do this.”
Each candidate then gave a closing statement.
“I will meet each challenge head on,” said Latiola. “I will not hide. There will be transparency in my administration. I will deal with our overcrowded jail system. None of us can afford to send a child or grandchild to jail.
“I believe in faith-based rehabilitation for alcoholics and drug addicts and I will work with our pastors and church leaders to see this through. A first-time offender for a non-violent crime deserves to get out but he needs to be productive.
“I have children and grandchildren. I started a job in 1979 and now it’s a passion.
“In closing, I’d like to encourage people to go vote no matter who they choose. We are only as good as you make us.”
“When I took office 13 years ago, this department was in rough shape,” said Gibson, referring to the Crowley Police Department. “We were 20 years behind (other departments) technology-wise. We made $2 million in improvements without using taxpayer money and we are now better equipped to protect our citizens. By working together we can move forward.
“Our children are our top assets. I have brought kids home who needed rides so that they wouldn’t have to walk the streets and I’ve been involved in coaching. I will work as hard as I can to take care of our children. At the current rate, they will be a lost generation. And please people ... go out and vote.”
The Rev. Ivan Lewis spoke to the audience on the importance of voting.
“We live in a great country where we have the chance to hold our leaders accountable,” he said. “If you are angry you have the right to vote. If you don’t vote then you are agreeing with the status quo.”