Duson’s police force will soon double in size after the town’s aldermen approved hiring two officers and agreed to increase the starting salary, making it the second-highest in the parish.
It was the first effort by new Police Chief Kip Judice, who was sworn in as chief on Tuesday and won the Board of Aldermen’s approval for the new hires the same night.
“It was so critical that we get some help and get increased pay so we get some quality people,” Judice said.
Judice will retire from a 30-year career at the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office on Thursday and begin his new job Friday in Duson. The aldermen appointed Judice to the position March 17. His appointment came after at least 15 years of tumultuous history for the town’s chiefs of police — most recently the July firing of former Chief Frank Andrew amid allegations of malfeasance.
“What I want to do is establish some good policy guidelines — some structure for these employees — and maintain a professional law enforcement agency. I don’t think that was something that was being done,” Judice said.
He plans to start the process by giving more duties to the Police Department’s clerk. The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday approved changing the clerk’s position from a part-time to a full-time job and opening it up for applicants.
The clerk now works part time and enters data for traffic citations, warrants and accident reports. Under the new job description, the clerk will also become evidence custodian, manage police records and ensure officers are scheduled for training, Judice said.
Once the new officers are hired, Judice will give the town’s two current officers a much-needed break. They’ve each been working 12-hour shifts daily for the last several months.
“I immediately identified that as a problem,” Judice said.
In the future, each of the four officers will work for two days, be off two days, then work for three days, reversing the shift schedule the following week, Judice said.
“Certainly that gives us an opportunity for employees to refresh and catch up after some of the rough days that happen in law enforcement,” Judice said.
Judice said he hopes to make additional hires later.
“(Four officers are) not going to be enough to sustain us, but it will still give us some time to decompress from this job. Then we’ll start working on the bigger picture,” Judice said.
The department will need to hire another officer after May 1, which is when interim Chief Joe Caillet plans to resign. It’s unclear where Caillet, who has worked as chief since Andrew was fired last summer, is headed. He was unavailable Friday afternoon for comment.
The department’s new starting pay of $3,000 a month — the highest in the parish below State Police — could help attract applicants to the town of about 1,600.
Police officers were paid about $2,300 a month before the Board of Aldermen approved the hike. The Sheriff’s Office, in comparison, starts its deputies at about $2,500 a month. After the Lafayette Police Department successfully sought a pay raise for its officers last year, their salaries were bumped up to about $2,900 a month.
Judice also will see an increased income once he starts his new job. He’ll be paid about $60,000 a year from his Sheriff’s Office pension on top of his $51,000 salary as Duson’s chief.
Also in queue for Judice to tackle when he takes over the department on Friday are several issues left by former employees and chiefs, including missing police reports and an evidence room in disarray.
Judice said he wants to look into digitizing the evidence records system.
“That’s going to be a priority,” he said.
Another issue: Some police reports from former employees were never entered into the system, Judice said. The District Attorney’s Office will have to determine whether officers should revisit the individuals involved in those reports and submit new ones.
“There’s very little I can do, nor can I fabricate facts,” Judice said.
Some of the reports go as far back as 2012.
In the meantime, Judice on Friday finished leading the investigation of a former Knight Oil Tools executive who’s accused of conspiring with a state trooper and sheriff’s deputy to frame his brother in a drug bust last year.
By night, he’s been traveling to Duson to check in on the town and the state of his future office.
“The professionalism starts there,” Judice said. “And it starts with me.”
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.