Sheriff Sid Gautreaux spoke to a small group of Republicans on Thursday in what was one of his first appearances on the campaign trail since qualifying for the October race last week.
“My goal is to serve the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish,” Gautreaux said to about 10 people who attended a roundtable discussion at Drusilla Seafood Restaurant.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party hosted the event.
“Being a public servant is what this is all about,” he said.
Gautreaux — who is running against Democrat and former Baton Rouge police Officer Mark Milligan — talked about his law enforcement philosophy, his accomplishments and his challenges as sheriff over the past four years.
Gautreaux, 62, said he has attacked crime using a two-pronged approach — community outreach and aggressive law enforcement.
He said he has challenged the deputies at each of his office’s five substations to plan a community outreach event each year.
“Law enforcement standing alone will not be as successful as we want it to be or as you want it to be,” Gautreaux said. “That’s not to say we aren’t aggressive when it comes to enforcing the law.”
Since taking office in the summer of 2007, Gautreaux said deputies routinely conduct warrant roundups and bicycle patrols.
They also are involved in the office’s first homicide and police dog divisions.
Partnerships with other law enforcement agencies have become more important and prevalent, Gautreaux said, citing the creation of the East Baton Rouge Parish Violent Crime Unit.
“Some of the same problems outside the parish are going on in the city, and some of it is caused by the same people,” he said. “So, we have to work together; we can’t live in a vacuum.”
Gautreaux said one of the biggest challenges he’s faced as sheriff is the deplorable condition of the parish’s prison.
Built in 1965 with a wing added in 1987, the building located near the city’s airport has ventilation problems, no video cameras and swaths of dead space, making it dangerous for deputies and prisoners, he said.
“We’re going to continue to do the best we can with what we have,” the sheriff added. “But, Parish Prison is where we are hurting the most.”
Despite the facility, Gautreaux said, he has made positive changes at the prison in an effort to reduce recidivism.
There are almost 20 social service programs offered at the prison, he said. There is also a GED program and faith wings, he said.
“I don’t care how long we have them, we will expose them to as many self-help programs we have,” the sheriff said about people booked into Parish Prison. “We want them to have the opportunity to better their lives.”
Thomas Baumann, owner of A Affordable Bail Bonds, attended Thursday’s discussion and said he’s a firm believer in trying to reform criminals and appreciates the sheriff’s efforts.
Former Baker Mayor Pete Heine also attended Thursday‘s event and said he too appreciates what the sheriff has done for East Baton Rouge Parish.
“I support my sheriff,” he said.
Gautreaux resigned from his 27-year career as Baker police chief to run for sheriff in 2007.
He and four opponents — including Milligan — attended at least half-a-dozen forums during the 2007 campaign, answering questions posed by residents and promoting their platforms.
Gautreaux talked about how he, if elected, would concentrate on putting more deputies on the streets, working with other law enforcement agencies in the parish and making Parish Prison safer through additional staffing and technology.
Gautreaux won the 2007 election in a runoff against Greg Phares, who was named sheriff after Elmer Litchfield vacated the office because of health reasons.
Winning 40,624 votes, or 52 percent of the vote, Gauteraux, then a Democrat, unseated Phares, a Republican, by 2,400 votes.
Milligan, who was unavailable for comment Thursday, garnered 5,022 votes, or 4 percent of the vote, in the 2007 primary election.
He was unavailable for comment Thursday.