NEW IBERIA — The city’s contract with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office for police services is about to expire during a tumultuous time for the agency, leaving unclear where the future of law enforcement services for the city is headed.
A federal investigation into inmate beatings has led to the indictments of Sheriff Louis Ackal and one of his top officials and to the convictions of nine deputies.
As staffing levels have shrunk amid the turmoil, New Iberia Mayor Hilda Curry said she’s hearing growing complaints from citizens about decreased patrols inside the city limits, prompting her to ask State Police to help with patrols.
The Sheriff’s Office has provided law enforcement services for the city since 2004, when city officials dissolved the New Iberia Police Department because of budget constraints. The contract is set to expire June 30, with both parties required to give a one-year notice should they wish to cancel the agreement.
Curry said citizen complaints against the Sheriff’s Office have been increasing over the past few months, with both the general public and neighborhood watch groups complaining of a decreased presence in the city.
Curry said her concerns are not directed toward the individual deputies.
“They’re doing a good job. I have concerns sometimes about maybe the lack of the number of individuals on patrols and actually whether or not there’s enough staffing to abide by the contract,” Curry said.
According to the contract, the Sheriff’s Office is required to have 10 certified officers patrolling the city at all times.
Because of the complaints, Curry has requested State Police’s assistance with patrols.
State Police spokesman Brooks David said troopers will help out when manpower is available.
“One day maybe a trooper inside of New Iberia, maybe two days later before a trooper can come back. Just depends. LSP will assist whenever we can as we always have,” David said.
Ackal’s chief deputy, Richard Hazelwood, said the number of officers on patrol exceeds the contract requirements.
“Be assured, we’re holding our own. We have enough to do the job,” Hazelwood said.
It’s unclear how many patrol officers are on the sheriff’s roster, and Hazelwood did not immediately have the information on Friday.
In response to a records request for a current and total employee list that included the employee’s position and salary, Sheriff’s Office attorney Steve Elledge provided a list from July.
Asked why a year-old list was provided in response to the public records request, Sheriff’s Office attorney Steve Elledge said, “That’s what the sheriff told me to send.”
An employee list the Sheriff’s Office provided to The Advocate in November listed 48 patrol officers. At least seven employees have since lost their jobs because of the federal convictions.
Curry will take feedback from the City Council at its Tuesday meeting on how to move forward with the contract, which she said she seeks to renegotiate.
“It’s very difficult to monitor performance, and that’s one of the issues with this contract is that there’s no accountability and there’s no penalties,” Curry said.
The city also will decide whether to hire former St. Mary Parish Sheriff David Naquin as a contracted liaison between the city and the Sheriff’s Office.
Before the city eliminated the position in 2012 because of funding issues, the liaison kept the city abreast of Sheriff’s Office operations, seeing to it that the office provide monthly crime reports as required in the contract.
The role has since been relegated to the Mayor’s Office.
“It’s worked, but it’s not the optimal situation,” Curry said, noting her office has not received the required crime reports from the Sheriff’s Office since 2012.
Should the council approve the hire, Naquin would keep tabs on Sheriff’s Office operations for $4,000 a month and throughout the end of Curry’s final year in office.
Meanwhile, Ackal and one of his top officials, Gerald Savoy, are under federal criminal indictment, charged with alleged roles in a string of inmate beatings central to the deputy convictions. Prosecutors have indicated in court filings that more charges could be forthcoming.
A trial date has not been set.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.