Those who drive out of or into the parish on a daily basis during the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. have undoubtedly seen State Police officers parked on the shoulder of the road, doors slightly ajar, with radar guns pointed out at passing traffic.
Those officers are part of a little-known program that has been in place with St. Charles Parish for over two decades called Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE).
Under the LACE program, the St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office contracts State Police to patrol highly trafficked areas of the parish. In exchange, State Police officers receive overtime wages from the D.A.’s office that as of 2008 were in excess of $40 per hour.
St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson said renewing the LACE contract was one of the first things he did when he was elected to office last year.
"The Sheriff’s Office is obviously busy fighting crime in the parish and doesn’t have the same resources to patrol the interstates and federal highways as state troopers," he said. "It is just an opportunity for us to get that service while at the same time allowing troopers to make a little bit of extra money to supplement their income."
Around 80 percent of tickets given in the parish come from LACE program, which has up to four officers working the parish at any given time throughout the day.
Trooper Melissa Matey, public information officer with State Police Troop B in Kenner, said the troopers focus on interstates and highways.
"Two people are working U.S. 90 at any one time," Matey said. "One person works U.S. 61 and then one other person could be working the north and south bound areas of I-310."
From Nov. 2012 through Jan. 2013, State Police officers worked 3,183 hours in those areas of the parish and handed out 5,359 citations.
Matey said due to the volume of tickets given out, the parish benefits greatly from having the program in place.
"Say the District Attorney’s Office pays $20,000 to our officers per month to write tickets in the parish, they are going to get about $200,000 back," she said.
Although the District Attorney’s Office contracts the LACE program and pays the officers, Chaisson is quick to clear up any misconception that his office is taking in all of the fines assessed under LACE violations. He said the LACE fines are split amongst numerous parish entities in the same manner as any other ticket.
"The only money that comes to us directly goes straight back to pay them," Chaisson said. "We don’t generate any additional income other than what we get for the normal citations, same thing with the Sheriff’s Office. Whatever that distribution of money is the same for a LACE ticket."
Chaisson said he is happy with the way the program has run since he has been in office.
"It’s a good program that keeps interstates safe with the added benefit of social revenue for the parish. It is a win-win in my view," Chaisson said. "It is great to have that presence out there, it really is. The great thing is that it is not taking these troops off of regular duty and the other things they should be doing. It is overtime for these guys. It pays for itself and that dual purpose."
In November 2012, a LACE officer was hit by a driver while ticketing a motorist on I-10.
Due to that accident, the State Police have been undergoing an analysis of the program to see if they can institute safety measures to keep similar incidents from occurring in the future.
"They are doing a safety analysis because of the incident to determine what’s the best method for reinstituting the actual LACE part of this program on the elevated portions," Chaisson said. "But they are absolutely still ticketing aggressive drivers."