SORRENTO — Claiming the workload is too much for just one person, Sorrento’s lone police officer says he will no longer patrol the streets or respond to emergencies, leaving the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office to provide full-time police protection.
The development is the latest involving the small town’s troubled police department, which has seen the resignation of its chief after he pleaded guilty to lying to an FBI agent and the loss of insurance for the department.
In a June 9 letter to Mayor Mike Lambert, Assistant Chief Ricky Smith said he will continue to fulfill “all legal and administrative duties incumbent upon me until such a time as the results of the November election cycle dictates.”
Lambert, who read Smith’s letter to the Town Council on Tuesday night, said Smith told him he was going out of town to respond to a family emergency but would return to work Monday.
Smith did not return to work Monday or Tuesday, Lambert said.
With no police officer on the force, Lambert said he felt he had no choice but to contact the Sheriff’s Office to provide 24-hour protection.
The loss of the department’s liability insurance and the departure of former Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr. have “placed considerable strain on the resources and personnel of this department,” Smith wrote in the letter.
As the town’s only police officer, Smith said, he was tasked with “all day-to-day administrative, patrol and investigative functions that were normally covered by several commissioned law enforcement officers and non-commissioned civilian personnel.”
This workload is “taxing personally and professionally,” Smith wrote, and then, calling himself “Acting Chief of Police,” requested the Sheriff’s Office fulfill all patrolling and investigative activities in the town.
Lambert, who noted Smith is not the “acting chief of police,” said Sheriff Jeff Wiley told him the Sheriff’s Office is ready to provide police protection to Sorrento 24 hours a day.
For $36 per hour, the Sheriff’s Office had already been under contract with the town to provide protection on weekends and at night.
That amount of protection has now increased, although Smith isn’t leaving the town Police Department.
The Police Department has had difficulties since the fall when its insurer, Risk Management Inc., said it would no longer provide liability insurance for the officers and their vehicles.
As a result, Theriot let go several police officers, leaving only himself and Smith on the force.
But in February, Theriot resigned after pleading guilty to lying to an FBI agent about inappropriate sexual contact with an intoxicated woman he had picked up after a 911 call.
Sorrento voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to elect a new police chief or abolish the Police Department entirely and therefore eliminate the chief’s position.
If a new chief is elected, he or she would fill the remainder of Theriot’s term, which expires June 30, 2017. That is, unless legislation goes into effect allowing voters to decide whether to abolish the Police Department and abolish the police chief’s position.