By Carolyn Roy, Carolyn@natchitochestimes.com
After 20 years, there is a new sheriff in Natchitoches Parish. Stuart Wright was selected last fall after having been an assistant district attorney before working in the sheriff’s department for a number of years. He answered the following questions for our readers.
NT: What did you do on your first day after being sworn in?
SSW: I was actually sworn in June 22. The law allows an elected sheriff to be sworn in early as long as he has received his commission from the governor. However I could not perform any functions as sheriff until midnight June 30. This is when the sheriff officially takes office. Once I was sworn in, I could then swear in all of the deputies. This prevents a mass swearing in at midnight June 30. After being sworn in, it was business as usual.
NT: Have you attended training for sheriffs since your election?
SSW: Yes, I completed the new sheriff’s school in Baton Rouge Feb. 3-7 sponsored by the La. Commission on Law Enforcement. This was a comprehensive training academy that focused on the executive aspect of being a sheriff. We covered many topics such as human resources, risk management, budgeting, staffing, deputy training requirements, etc. I will continue to take part in our training programs and be as hands on as possible with our team.
NT: You worked for Sheriff Jones for several years and was trained in his operations. Do you plan to make changes and if so, what are they? Any new programs?
SSW:I have actually worked with Sheriff Jones for 36 years. The first 28 years I was an assistant district attorney prosecuting all kinds of crime. Sheriff Jones was an investigator with the Sheriff’s Office so he was my main witness in many cases that went to trial. For the last eight years, I served as in-house counsel for the Sheriff’s Office. Besides being Sheriff Jones’ legal consultant, I worked with all departments on legal issues that came up such as search and seizure, arrest, affidavits, interrogation of suspects and many more matters. As of this date, we have made approximately 45 changes in rank and positions. We have maintained most programs Sheriff Jones created.
NT: What did you learn from Sheriff Jones?
SSW: I could write a book on what I have learned from Sheriff Jones. When he took the oath to serve and protect the citizens of Natchitoches Parish, he meant to do just that. His concern for the citizens of Natchitoches Parish is on a level not seen very often. You would not believe the kind of help he has given to the citizens of Natchitoches Parish. A great percentage of this help are things he is really not obligated to do, but has done so out of the kindness of his heart. Helping children has always been his greatest joy. He has said many times that “it is not how many people you put in jail, but how many you can keep out of jail,” that makes a good deputy. He also holds dear to his heart the senior citizens of Natchitoches Parish and the employees at the NPSO. He has created and participated in many programs serving senior citizens, such as helping with the Council on Aging. He is the best at answering his phone and returning calls. He is the definition of “serving the people.” My goal is to continue this service to the people of Natchitoches Parish.
NT: How will your sheriff’s office be organized? What are the departments and who heads them, patrol, detectives, administrative, etc. How many employees are in your office and what is the breakdown (administrative, etc.)?
SSW: We have reduced and consolidated nine departments to four. Patrol, Criminal Investigations, Corrections and Civil are our four bureaus. We have approximately 190 employees and we have made major changes in the make up of these bureaus. Personnel who have had a position change or a rank change are on a 90-day probation to see if they best fit that particular job. After the 90-day probation period, employees will be permanently assigned to the position.
NT: Because there are on-going riots and civil unrest in other parts of the country, do your deputies have training for such incidents should they materialize in this parish? If so, what kind of training?
SSW: Our deputies are trained to protect our citizens from criminal activity and unlawful civil unrest. There is a distinction between legal protesting, which we fully support, and unlawful unrests, riots or criminal behaviors. Our deputies are trained in de-escalation and conflict resolution methods. My first goal is to try to keep the peace. After that, we want to listen to folks who have concerns. Then do what we can do, that’s within the law, to help someone alleviate their concerns. We will listen before reacting and always ask for community input when practical. I am so thankful of our church leaders and the strong bond our community has with our churches. I know much of the success we have seen in terms of community relations is because of the positive relationship we have with our churches and the respect they have from their congregations. By working together, and living as one community and one family, we can discuss our concerns with each other in a respectful manner that is productive and will achieve results.
NT: Are the plans for enhanced security at the courthouse still underway?
SSW: We maintain top-level security at the courthouse. Not only do we do the screening for Covid-19, we use metal detectors and conduct personal searches of all bags, purses or containers that come to the courthouse. We have security on the first floor as well as a security check on the second floor. Outside doors are locked and no entry is allowed to the general public, except through the front door.
NT: What is the starting salary for a deputy and what is the salary for the highest paid deputy
SSW: Our budget is approximately $17 million of which 75 percent is employee related. The starting salary per patrol deputy is approximately $30,000 plus benefits. After serving one year post academy, they are eligible for the state supplement of $6,000 per year, which totals $36,000 plus benefits annually. The highest paid deputy is the chief deputy who earns an annual salary of $99,000.