Saturday’s runoff to determine who will serve as Harahan’s next police chief remains focused on which of the two candidates would do a better job of improving the relationship between the department and the general public.
Tim Walker, 67, and Peter Dale, 69, both come from backgrounds in law enforcement and have served on the Harahan City Council.
In discussing the campaign, both men said that, just as in the run-up to last month’s primary, they’re focused on implementing community policing programs in the city of 10,000 residents.
Walker goes into Saturday’s election as the frontrunner, having won 1,058 votes, or 40 percent, in the primary. Dale trailed by about 300 votes and took 29 percent of the total.
Al Majeau came in third with 23 percent; Darlene Schwartz received 7 percent.
Walker and Dale are running to fill out the unexpired term of former Chief Mac Dickinson, who left the department in October to take a position with the Louisiana State Police. That term expires at the end of the year, meaning that whoever wins this weekend will have to stand for re-election in October.
The campaign has largely centered on whether community policing is mostly about specific tactics and techniques used by officers or whether it’s a matter of changing attitudes in the department and encouraging private citizens to get involved in public safety.
Dale has pointed to his past experience as Harahan police chief — he served two terms before term limits prevented him from running for re-election in 2010 — and a series of tactics he instituted at the time as a way to increase interactions between officers and residents.
They included bike, motorcycle and golf-cart patrols and a requirement that officers get out of their patrol cars at points during their shift and walk the beat for a block in each direction. Dale said those policies made it easier for residents and officers to interact, but they were phased out after his term was over.
“I want to bring back the programs I had in here that were eliminated over a period of time. They were the ones that stopped crime,” Dale said, noting that Harahan was named the safest city in Louisiana during his term.
“My goal is to make Harahan as safe as it was when my children were growing up and to keep it that way because I want my grandchildren to grow up in that atmosphere,” Dale said.
Walker, who spent most of his law enforcement career with the New Orleans Police Department, said his focus would be on ensuring that more patrol cars are out in the city’s neighborhoods. Improving relations with the community means ensuring residents know their complaints are being taken seriously and encouraging them to call police whenever they see something suspicious, he said.
“What I can bring to the table is a department that is more in touch with the community and, vice versa, the community with the department,” Walker said.
Much of that is a matter of ensuring officers are handling those calls with the right attitude and ensuring residents feel the department is accountable, from the chief on down, he said.
“We’d like the public to be our eyes and ears,” Walker said. “It’s about interacting with the public, making the public feel comfortable so they don’t feel like they’re bothering them.”
Neither candidate said he was much concerned about the defeat in April of a 6-mill property tax that would have helped fund the Police Department. Both said voters likely did not support the tax because of concerns it would simply replace general city revenues that now go to the police instead of actually increasing the department’s budget.
Both candidates also said they hope to deal with the department’s tight budget situation without laying off officers.
The race saw a bit of last-minute controversy this week over a flier hung on doors throughout the city. The flier, which supports Dale’s candidacy, includes comments from Walker and Jefferson Parish Councilman Paul Johnston from Dale’s first campaign in 2002. Both those officials supported Dale at the time.
Johnston, who is supporting Walker this year, took issue with the flier in a news release, saying it could “fool the public” into believing he had endorsed Dale in this race.
“The words attributed to me by Mr. Dale were made over 12 years ago at a time when I was hopeful that Mr. Dale would lead the department in the right direction,” Johnston said in reiterating his support for Walker.