After 20 years, there's about to be a new sheriff in town in West Feliciana Parish.
“Stan” Branton Jr., 48, an Independent, Michael Roberts, 65, a Democrat, and Republican Brian Spillman, 59, will face off on Oct. 12 for West Feliciana Parish Sheriff J. Austin Daniel’s job, a position he's held since 2000.
All three candidates have never before served in elective office. They say they want to leverage community support to make law enforcement more effective across the growing parish.
Branton, who has served in the military and worked as an enforcement officer for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said he sees law enforcement as an avenue to help people.
His vision for how to assist residents of West Feliciana Parish emphasizes community policing, which involves sending deputies into neighborhoods to go door-to-door in an effort to better understand local issues. In a small community like West Feliciana, Branton said, it would be an effective crime-prevention method.
Branton also said he's passionate about reforming youth incarceration, an issue he has seen affect many young people across the parish.
“I’ve seen a bunch of kids go down the wrong path that probably could have been good kids if somebody had done something earlier in their life,” Branton said. “If we’re incarcerating them for minor offenses when they’re very young, I don’t know that we’ll ever get them back.”
He said he agrees with criminal justice reforms Louisiana passed in 2017 that, among other things, sought imprisonment alternatives for minor offenders. But, he said, the state should have considered how to address this problem on the front end — before the crimes were committed.
“We’ve got to do better about finding out what our kids’ problems are before they turn into criminals,” Branton said. “If we take this proactive approach, we can save a lot of kids and steer them down a productive life instead of one in the penal system.”
He said he plans to revamp the school resource officer program and the drug and alcohol awareness council as part of his platform to provide young people at risk with greater community support.
Spillman also talked about the value of implementing community-oriented policing. He has worked for the West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office for the last 12 years and held several roles in the department, ranging from crisis response commander to helicopter pilot.
“One of the things that we’re facing from time to time are property crimes,” Spillman said. “That’s going to be one of our focuses — to be visible in our communities and to be more proactive in our patrol activities in those communities.”
West Feliciana is on the brink of rapid growth over the next ten years that must be addressed through law enforcement working closely with the community through neighborhood groups and homeowners’ associations, Spillman said.
In a bid to encourage community involvement, Spillman wants to establish a citizens academy where parish residents can familiarize themselves with how the sheriff’s office operates.
“This is all I’ve ever done — it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” Spillman said. “My entire professional life has been dedicated to law enforcement in West Feliciana Parish. I just want to see that through.”
Roberts, another West Feliciana native, was born on Angola where his father worked and has spent his entire career in corrections. Roberts named his top issues as curbing drug use in the parish and adjusting deputy assignments so more deputies are on patrol during each shift.
He also said he is in favor or reducing speed limits to prevent pedestrian or cyclist deaths, which have plagued West Feliciana in recent years.
“The roads in West Feliciana, other than Highway 61, don’t have shoulders,” Roberts said. “They need to do something with the speeding and maybe try and reduce the speed limits.”
Roberts is the only candidate running for sheriff who has not served in law enforcement. But he said he believes his background in corrections gives him an edge over his competition.
“I understand people,” Roberts said. “I worked in adult and juvenile corrections, so I understand the mentality of the juveniles and the adults.”