Representatives from the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Lafourche Parish and Louisiana State Police Troop C accept the 2021 Leaders in Law Awards. Applications are now being accepted for the 2022 awards. (Courtesy photo)

By Amanda McElfresh, amcelfresh@theadvocate.com

This article is brought to you by Community Foundation of Acadiana.

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Across Louisiana, sworn law enforcement officers and criminal justice agencies take seriously their responsibility to protect and serve while ensuring the safety and quality of life of their communities. Through using the latest technology, innovative strategies and a focus on positive outcomes, these departments are helping create a better quality of life for Louisiana families.

Three such agencies will be honored this year with the 2022 Leaders in Law Awards, presented by Community Foundation of Acadiana (CFA). A $35,000 award will be presented to one Louisiana sheriff’s department, one Louisiana district attorney’s office and one Louisiana State Police troop or section. Encourage your local law enforcement agency doing exceptional work in your community to apply now through Thursday, March 31, at www.cfacadiana.org/leadersinlaw. The award is presented in partnership with The Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation.

The intent of the award is to bolster morale, increase respect for public service, acknowledge improvements in operations, and encourage extraordinary performance among Louisiana’s law enforcement agencies. These awards are designed to honor departments who are making the biggest impact in their communities with existing resources.

“Our local Louisiana law enforcement heroes often go above and beyond the call of duty to further connect with their communities through worthwhile causes like mentoring kids, feeding the hungry, and restoring vacant properties and putting them to community use,” said David B. Spencer, Chairman of the Board of the Joe W. and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation. “Their generosity and accomplishments aren’t always noticed, but we are committed to bringing recognition to elite law enforcement programs that increase the esteem of law enforcement in our local communities.”

The 2022 applications will be evaluated and scored by a selection committee made up of retired law enforcement professionals. Applications are evaluated based on multiple factors, including but not limited to programs that increase public confidence in law enforcement, objective measures of success or improvement, programs that make the justice system more accessible to and supportive of victims, efficient use of public tax dollars and the use of new technology. An awards ceremony will take place in Lafayette in Fall 2022.

“As one of Louisiana’s premier philanthropic organizations, Community Foundation of Acadiana is proud to recognize and honor law enforcement and criminal justice agencies and the good work they do to keep our communities and state safe,” said Raymond J. Hebert, CEO of Community Foundation of Acadiana. “This is an attempt to say ‘thank you’ and publicly recognize creative and innovative strategies and endeavors that we hope will encourage and inspire other agencies throughout Louisiana.”

In the past, the Leaders in Law awards have been a way for agencies to improve morale and expand existing successful programs. Last year, the award affirmed that the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office was on the right path with the Hickley M. Waguespack Center and Park, a safe space that opened in 2017 for deputies to interact with the public each day in a positive manner. The space has led to decreased crime in the surrounding area, and there are plans to expand it to include an early childhood development center.

The same was true for the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office of Lafourche Parish, which was recognized for its RESPECT U program that teaches self-respect, respect for others and respect for the community in conjunction with existing school programs. “We truly believe that if we can start reaching our children at a young age that we’re going to see a difference in our community in five, 10 and 15 years. It’s going to be a slow process, but we can do it,” said Lafourche Parish District Attorney Kristine Russell.

Other honorees have created innovative programs that have been replicated by other agencies. Louisiana State Police Troop C, a 2021 award recipient, used thorough data analysis of traffic crashes to determine the areas, days and times when crashes were most frequent, then increased enforcement accordingly. The initiative was so successful that it has become a part of Louisiana State Police’s statewide policy.

The Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Department used its prize in 2020 to purchase new laptops and software that have helped them continue their Mentoring for Scholars program through the pandemic, track scholar’s grades and ensure consistent program attendance. Another 2020 winner, the 40th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for St. John the Baptist Parish, reinvested its award into its Opportunity Now program, which gives first-time felony offenders a chance to make positive changes through life skills and workforce readiness training and services.

“The primary objective for law enforcement agencies is improving the human experience for those who live in, visit, or operate a business in their communities,” Spencer said. “Over the two years we have partnered with CFA, we have noticed that the top performing departments recognize that public trust in law enforcement can be improved and crime reduced through a collaborative approach to law enforcement.”

Encourage your sheriff’s department, district attorney’s office or state police troop to visit www.cfacadiana.org/leadersinlaw for more information or to submit an application.