As St. Charles Parish Chief Deputy Joseph Cardella readies for retirement, Sheriff Greg Champagne said he’ll be greatly missed.
“Joe has been a great public servant for the people of St. Charles Parish,” Champagne said. “I have relied on him for his honest advice over the past 20 years and could always count on him especially in a crisis situation. He has been firm, but fair in all matters. His shoes will be tough to fill.”
Cardella’s last day on the job will be July 28.With a law enforcement career spanning more than 40 years, he has served as a police officer, deputy sheriff and FBI agent.
As second in command to the sheriff, Cardella said the most challenging aspect of his job has been to gain and retain the trust of the citizens and employees.
“I think that most people appreciate the job that law enforcement does,” he said. “They’ll acknowledge that out of the hundreds of thousands of encounters with law enforcement, that the vast majority are positive – not negative.”
Cardella sought to ensure it happened in St. Charles Parish.“The years have gone by very fast, but I have to say I feel fortunate and sincerely appreciative to the sheriff for giving me the opportunity 21 years ago to work here,” he said. “I really feel blessed working with the people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. The Sheriff’s Office is one of the best agencies in the U.S.”
Among his major achievements, Cardella listed establishing the parish’s active shooter program, going to Washington, D.C., during Police Week to honor fallen officers and serving as a weapons instructor where he has taught residents how to defend themselves.
“The sheriff has a good vision for this agency and he has allowed me the opportunity to work with him toward those goals with everyone here,” he said.
To those who follow, Cardella added, “If your goal is to serve, this is the best way to do it. I worked with some amazing cops and worked for some great leaders. I just wanted to try and do my best to one day, hopefully, be close to what they were.”
Cardella said he chose law enforcement as a career at a time when everyone talked about being a fireman or policeman, but his pivotal moment came with the 1973 shooting at the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge in New Orleans. When a sniper killed 10 people, including five New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers, he decided he wanted to be one of the people who knew how to deal with that kind of situation.
In 1973, he joined the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, where he served as a patrol deputy after completing the JPSO Training Academy.
Three years later, he joined the NOPD and was assigned patrol duty in the French Quarter. He moved up to detective in the vice squad.
By 1981, Cardella joined the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office and worked his way through the patrol division, detective bureau, administrative services and public relations.
He rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Internal Affairs Division and became a member of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Task Force.
In 1996, Champagne appointed him to chief deputy, making him second in command in charge of the department’s day-to-day operations with more than 400 employees.
Cardella said he’s made lifelong friends with people he feels genuinely care about what they’re doing.
“I guess it’s the only job I believe that still believes in character and virtue … the only profession that still holds those things to be important and I appreciate that,” he said.
Hurricane Katrina’s massive destruction represents one of his most memorable experiences on the job.
“On the positive side, it was good to see the best side of officers, as far as here, and what they were able to do … and what they sacrificed,” he said. “It was very satisfying to be with a group of men and women that were dedicated to each other and the citizens.”
But Cardella said it was also a very tragic event to see, not only the devastation, but also to see how it affected law enforcement officers in the area and how it challenged them.
He also said the death of Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeff Watson, who was killed in a head-on collision in 2014 while on duty, and the shooting of Cpl. Burt Hazeltine, also on duty, in 2015 represent two of the worst days on the job.Cardella said he believes every law enforcement officer recognizes the risk of what can happen on the job.
“Law enforcement officers risk more than anyone in any profession, as well as for their families,” he said. “Their families will suffer if they are gone or get sued or all the bad things that can happen to them. It’s hard to find the people who have the heart to do this job and want to do it.”
Also, Cardella said the profession has certainly changed over the years.
“When I first started, there were no portable radios, no computers,” he said. “There were no screens in the back of cars to separate the prisoners from law enforcement officers. I think equipment and technology has changed tremendously from those days. Training is one of the reasons law enforcement is as successful as it is today.”
Cardella said he also considers law enforcement more inclusive now with more women coming into law enforcement.As he approach’s the close of his career, Cardella said he wanted to retire while his health was still good so he could enjoy time with his family. They live in Luling.
“I’m blessed with five boys, 12 grandchildren and a great grandchild so I want to be able to spend more time with them,” he said.
They’re taking a two-week River Cruise in Europe in October, and then he and his wife, Connie, are going to the Vatican.Cardella said he will take the memories of a Sheriff’s Office that kept the “spirit of family” in helping each other, as well as the parish’s overall efforts to promote quality of life.
“I’m very proud,” he said. “I’m old school. It’s not bragging if you can do it and we can do it. That’s why I say we’re the best. You can either sit on the sidelines or you can get involved. I think our citizens deserve the best.”