Evangeline Parish Sheriff Eddie Soileau, citing a severe budget deficit, is considering getting out of the law enforcement business.
According to documents released with an Attorney General's Office opinion on Wednesday, Soileau asked for legal guidance on whether the Sheriff's Office can forgo law enforcement.
The AG's office opined that the sheriff has a legal duty to keep the peace and make arrests but added that the he is not legally required to assign a certain number deputies to do patrols or handle other law enforcement duties.
"Should a sheriff choose not to appoint deputies to assist in his law enforcement role, we could cite no statute that would forbid such a choice, but a sheriff is afforded no discretion in which of his legal duties to perform," the opinion states. "Accordingly, despite the discretion available to sheriffs regarding how to execute certain official duties, it is our opinion that no public official may choose to shrug a yoke his office bears by constitutional decree."
In a September letter to the AG's office, Sheriff's Office attorney Jonathan Vidrine asked whether the Sheriff's Office could focus solely on its role as parish tax collector — which Vidrine characterized as a priority — and dispense with the law enforcement side of the operation.
He wrote that Soileau began laying off employees after failing to make payroll in August and, barring new sources of revenue, "will have no recourse except to not have a law enforcement side of his office."
"In other words, we are requesting an opinion on whether a sheriff in Louisiana can legally operate without having law enforcement duties and just having his tax collection matters and his civil service of process," Vidrine wrote. "As you may have read or watched on the news, the Sheriff's Office is running at a deficit and simply does not have the budget nor a source of income to continue the law enforcement part of his office."
Neither Soileau nor Vidrine could be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The AG's opinion would not bar the Sheriff's Office from ending its law enforcement role, but it does indicate the move would be legally suspect.
It is unclear what impact such a move would have. Most small towns in the parish have their own police departments, but the sheriff oversees law enforcement in rural areas.
Soileau became sheriff in 2008 and has struggled with budget issues for much of his tenure, though his financial woes reached a critical point this year.
According to recent report from KATC-TV, Soileau had laid off 21 employees as of September and planned to lay off at least 10 more.