St. Charles DA says program kept highways safer
St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson II said he hopes “a few bad apples” don’t jeopardize a program that he believes has made area highways safer.
Three state troopers have been placed on administrative leave and are under investigation, accused of claiming extra-duty pay for time they apparently did not work in a program called Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE). One of these troopers reportedly earned $240,000 a year with $147,000 being overtime from the program.
State Police superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves called for a review of the statewide highway traffic enforcement program.
The cooperative program has been suspended in St. Charles Parish along with 43 other parishes across the state. It is not known how many hours the troopers are accused of fraudulently claiming.
Some of the fraudulent shifts in question were worked in St. Charles Parish, according to Chaisson.
LACE has long been funded by local district attorneys to provide extra-duty shifts in jurisdictions throughout the state.
Chaisson said, like DAs throughout the state, his office has a contract with State Police and it assigns the troopers.
“We don’t have any quota system for the number of tickets they write,” he said. “We asked them to work I-310, U.S. Highway 90 and I-10. They assign the troopers to do that. They pay them and send us a bill at the end of the month to reimburse the cost and for mileage, and wear and tear on vehicles.”
These roads are still patrolled in the parish, but now with fewer troopers.
Chaisson emphasized the program’s focus is crime prevention.“It’s a deterrent,” Chaisson said. “People know they have to watch their speed in St. Charles Parish and, as a result, our highways are safer.”
The DA expressed concern the potential fraud has put the program in jeopardy, but he said a possible fix is putting GPS in the vehicles.
“It would be a shame to let a few bad apples ruin a very successful program,” Chaisson said. “Far and away, these troopers work very hard to do a great job to make our highways safer.”
Without LACE, these troopers could lose the opportunity to make those extra hours, he said.
“I hope it is corrected soon because I am a firm believer in it,” Chaisson added.
LACE became part of Louisiana law enforcement in the 1980s after state budget shortfalls hurt trooper numbers. Local officials, as did Chaisson, say the program providing additional patrols has reduced crashes.
The program was designed after earlier ones to put more troopers on roads and then it was expanded to local jurisdictions.
Local governments keep ticket proceeds from those shifts, which generate fees and court costs that go to public defender offices and other agencies.
Law enforcement agencies have complete control over when and where officers work, which allows them to place officers in high crash and high crime areas around the parish. The District Attorney’s Office reimburses agencies for salaries and vehicle maintenance and purchases equipment for these agencies with funds from the program.
In 2013, a Herald-Guide report outlined how LACE provided overtime pay to State Troopers patrolling St. Charles Parish.
At the time, it was estimated that “80 percent of tickets given in the parish come from [the] LACE program, which has up to four officers working the parish at any given time throughout the day.”
It further states, “Trooper Melissa Matey, public information officer with State Police Troop B in Kenner, said the troopers focus on interstates and highways. Matey said two people were working U.S. 90 at any one time. She further 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,” according to the report.
Matey said due to the volume of tickets given out, the parish benefits greatly from having the program in place.
In November of 2012, a LACE officer being hit while ticketing a driver on I-10 initiated an analysis on improving safety measures.