LAFAYETTE — While critics call it one of Louisiana’s most notorious speed traps, the police chief of Washington, said he is under relentless pressure from the mayor to issue still more tickets.
“We should not have to work under these conditions, putting a quota on us telling us that we are not writing enough tickets,” Washington Police Chief Ronelle Broussard said.
But Washington Mayor Joseph Pitre, the target of Broussard’s allegations, said he has issued no such orders.
The real issue, Pitre charged, is a troubling report from Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera that said Broussard may have violated state law in his bail and cash bond deposit policies.
“It has nothing to do with him not writing tickets,” Pitre said of his bitter dispute with Broussard. “He was doing some illegal stuff and the report revealed that.”
He added later, “I have been here for 13 years and I don’t tolerate bull****.”
The town that is in the center of this political brawl is about 75 miles northwest of Baton Rouge and sits alongside Interstate 49 in St. Landry Parish, just north of Opelousas.
It has about 1,000 residents and is perhaps best known for the Old Schoolhouse Antiques Mall.
Last year, tiny Washington triggered a fight in the Legislature over efforts to put new restrictions on its ticket writing, which along with forfeitures accounted for a whopping 84 percent of the town’s revenues for one recent year. Those efforts failed.
Washington often is cited as a speed trap, as are other spots that generate huge amounts of revenue from speeding tickets, including Golden Meadow, Port Barre and Livonia.
State Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, is running for lieutenant governor and says he hears gripes about Washington all over the state.
“Turning a town into a speed trap, which is what has been done, is bad for tourism,” Guillory said. “It is bad for all of Louisiana because those speed traps are right on I-49.
“They should be protecting the people of the town, not out trying to hustle a few dollars from unsuspecting tourists going past,” he said.
Broussard said he and the mayor have been at odds since he took office in 2011, especially over Pitre’s repeated request for officers to station themselves near the tiny section of I-49 — roughly 500 yards — that is in the town’s boundaries.
That section is near the spot where the speed limit drops from 75 mph to 70 mph for southbound traffic and rises to 75 mph for those heading north.
The police chief said the mayor has never spelled out how many tickets, or how much annual revenue for the town, is enough.
“But he would tell us keep writing, keep writing,” he said.
Not so, Pitre countered.
The mayor said he has repeatedly made clear that, like other agencies, the Washington Police Department has to keep its revenue and spending in check.
“What I am telling him to do is control his expenses in his budget,” Pitre said.
While last year’s legislation failed, revenue from ticket writing by the six-person police force has plummeted.
Broussard said revenue has dropped from $1.2 million in 2011 to about $800,000 last year and, based on current trends, will total about $400,000 or $500,000 this year.
One reason, he said, is because a female officer was seriously injured near the interstate last year.
“That accident really affected the other officers,” Broussard said. “They just felt like it was an unsafe environment for them to be in because she was in a serious accident.”
Motorists have noticed that the stops for speeding have dropped near Washington.
State Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, a longtime critic of Broussard and the town’s policies on citations, travels up and down I-49 twice a week during legislative sessions.
“They didn’t have the presence they did last year, and I have heard people comment,” Seabaugh said.
In another twist, Broussard has been on a work-related medical leave since February.
He has a damaged eye and elbow, cannot drive and is scheduled to undergo neck surgery next month.
When he will return to the office is unclear.
Pitre said Broussard’s allegations are a distraction from serious concerns raised by Purpera in an April 15 review that was sought by Pitre.
The police chief has denied any wrongdoing.
However, the Town Council has asked the district attorney to look into the issue.
Some residents are trying to launch a recall petition of Broussard and talking about converting to an appointed police chief.
“The town would be much better off if it had a police chief that abided by the law and that the people didn’t need to be afraid of,” Pitre said.
Broussard said he has been under pressure from the mayor to write more speeding tickets for a long time.
He said those demands have helped torpedo efforts to boost pay for his police officers, and spilled into other areas, as well.
“In so many words he is telling me if I didn’t bring the money in then I am going to do whatever it takes for me to weaken your department,” Broussard said of the mayor. “And he has proven that.”
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.