YOUNGSVILLE — Police Chief-elect Rickey Boudreaux recalls during the early years of his 30-year law enforcement career patrolling areas of this town that were “nothing but cane fields.”
That was then; this is now.
Many of those cane fields are now sprawling subdivisions with hundreds of new homes. And the population Boudreaux will soon be tasked with protecting is surging, up 36 percent to a little over 11,000 just since 2010.
“I’ve watched this place just explode,” said Boudreaux, a 14-year resident of Youngsville.
Boudreaux will take the reins Jan. 1 after a successful second campaign to unseat 28-year Chief Earl Menard, who was elected only two years after Youngsville was upgraded from a village to a town.
“He’s due a whole lot of respect, not only from the police officers that have worked for him but from the citizens he’s protected,” said Boudreaux, who won 59 percent of the Nov. 4 vote — a percent higher than Menard earned against him in 2010.
This year, Menard got 33 percent of the vote, with candidate Gary Williams capturing 8 percent.
“I was able to get out there to the public and relay my message better,” Boudreaux said.
Boudreaux ran a campaign focused on improving leadership and administration in the department, which has been under State Police investigation since July after two former officers alleged evidence mishandling.
Boudreaux chose not to use the investigation as an issue in the campaign.
“I’m a firm believer in innocent until proven guilty,” Boudreaux said Friday. “I think if there were mistakes made, they weren’t done intentionally.”
After 15 years working for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, Boudreaux — a 1978 Comeaux High School graduate — served as both patrol and SWAT commander with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office from October 2008 until he announced his candidacy in mid-April. He’s since worked as security director for the Youngsville Sports Complex, where he’ll stay until January.
Increasing manpower is a priority for Boudreaux once he assumes office, and he said he wants to see 30 officers employed to protect the estimated 11,000 residents living in Youngsville.
“For a city this size, we’re really understaffed,” Boudreaux said.
The department has a budget for 20 officers but employs 14. Neighboring Broussard, another growing city with a population comparable to Youngsville’s, has two openings for officers in a department budgeted for 28, Chief Brannon Decou said.
Boudreaux said he wants to see at least four patrolmen working per shift, along with a supervisor, and he plans to divide the city into police districts for better coverage.
“It would allow officers more time in that area to concentrate on being a good deterrent for crime,” Boudreaux said.
An officer also will be assigned to handle public information, Boudreaux said.
The responsibility is currently delegated to Menard, who has not responded to repeated requests from The Advocate for information and comment since October.
“For now, I will be the spokesman until I find somebody I’m comfortable with to do it,” Boudreaux said.
Another significant piece of Boudreaux’s campaign involved upgrading and purchasing equipment and tools for the department.
The department is upgrading its reporting software, confirmed secretary Cindy Broussard. But Boudreaux said he wants to purchase digital cameras, fingerprinting kits and DNA-swabbing kits to get the force up to speed with other city police agencies.
In a place with one armed robbery but almost 400 vehicle break-ins and residential burglaries logged since 2006, Boudreaux said, these kinds of crime-scene supplies can help make arrests. He said he hopes to fund some of the purchases with federal grants.
Boudreaux opposed a half-cent rededication of a 1981 police tax to the city’s general fund, which 60 percent of voters approved in November. He said in October he would rather see the funds rededicated as a total public safety tax that would also fund Youngsville’s mostly volunteer fire department.
But Boudreaux said he doesn’t think the shift will affect his plans.
“With all the new businesses coming into town, I think eventually the money will be recouped by the increased revenues,” Boudreaux said.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook