OPELOUSAS — During a meeting Tuesday night with downtown business owners and others concerned about a rash of commercial burglaries in the past month, Police Chief Donald Thompson promised an increased presence from his officers.
“We’re coming, and we’re going to give what it takes to serve you better and do what it takes to guard your property,” Thompson told the nearly 50 people who met with him and other officers for nearly 90 minutes at City Hall.
Many of the business owners who spoke at the meeting said they feel vulnerable to crime, especially after an Oct. 8 burglary spree that involved seven downtown businesses located just two blocks from the police headquarters.
Thompson said Christopher Batiste was arrested in Opelousas about a week later and booked on a count of simple burglary in one of those burglaries.
According to court records, police connected Batiste to the crime after matching the shoe prints of shoes allegedly belonging to Batiste with shoe prints recovered at Classic Creations, which was burglarized Oct. 8.
The records also indicate Batiste was wanted at the time of the arrest on warrants issued in August by the Ville Platte Police Department on an unrelated burglary and the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office for failure to appear for a court date. Bond for Batiste was set Friday at $50,000.
Most of the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting was directed at what Thompson’s department could do to protect businesses and how the owners could better handle potential burglary and robbery threats.
Police Officer Mark Guidry said all businesses should have surveillance systems.
“Cameras, who’s got cameras? It’s an investment you can’t afford not to make. It’s just the world we live in. You can even set them up so there’s someone at home who is watching your back,” Guidry said.
One business owner who did not identify herself said she arms herself with a gun while at work.
“It (the gun) is there upstairs with me. Do I have the right to protect myself?” she asked.
Thompson said she has a right to have a gun at her business and can lawfully use if she is threatened with a crime.
Business owner Frankie Bertrand said business operators aren’t the only victims during break-ins.
“The criminal has access to home addresses of customers, bank accounts and personal informal far beyond what might be taken,” Bertrand said.
One owner said who also did not identify herself said many of the downtown businesses, including those entered during the Oct. 8 burglaries, are operated by women.
“Many of these five to seven women work late at night and on the weekends. There is only one way in and one way out of (her business),” she said.
Another owner who also did not identify herself said she feels “naturally scared” after the parish courthouse closes at 4:30 p.m.
“When the courthouse shuts down and the lawyers leave, it’s very quiet,” she said of the downtown business area.
Thompson told her to call his department and he would send an officer to assist her exit.
Thompson said he will increase patrols in the downtown area both at night and during business hours. He said he will instruct officers to visit downtown businesses and spend time talking to the owners, asking them if there are any problems.
He said he is about 20 officers short of what he needs to sufficiently patrol the city, but he will increase overtime if needed.
Assistance also will be requested from the City Marshal’s Office, St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office and State Police.