St. Helena Parish Sheriff Nathaniel “Nat” Williams Sr. is facing competition from one of his former deputies in his Oct. 12 bid for a fourth term.

Williams said he’ll continue to “move the parish forward” through the drug enforcement and community policing efforts he has implemented during his tenure. His challenger, retired deputy Frank Ricard Sr., hopes to focus on finding funds to beef up the ranks of deputies and build a new jail.

Both candidates are Democrats. Early voting is Sept. 28 to Oct. 5.

Williams, 63, began his career with the Sheriff’s Office in 1986. He worked his way up the ranks and took over as the rural parish’s top cop in 2007, when then-Sheriff Ronald “Gun” Ficklin became the third holder of that office to land in federal prison.

Williams, who has been reelected by wide margins in past contests, said several improvements have been made under his leadership: building a new sally port and visitation area at the parish jail, getting computer software to streamline tax collections, and strengthening partnerships with other law enforcement agencies and the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.

He wants to expand initiatives to educate youth about the dangers of drugs, which he said are at the center of many cases handled by Sheriff’s Office. Community-oriented programs already in place have led to an overall decrease in crime on his watch, he said.

“We work more closely with the public,” he said. “They’re our ears and eyes.”

Williams said he keeps an open-door policy and credits his long law enforcement career with helping him improve relationships with deputies.

“I can understand what it’s like to sit in a patrol vehicle for 12 hours," he said. "I can understand the pressure in dealing with inmates.”

The Sheriff’s Office, including both its civil and criminal branches, has a staff of about 60. That number was closer to 70 when Williams became sheriff; he said he has had to downsize because of a decline in video poker revenue, a key funding source for the agency.

Opponent Ricard, however, said he believes the Sheriff’s Office is understaffed not because of the budget, but because of Williams’ administrative style. Ricard, 70, said if he’s elected, a top priority will be figuring out how to hire more deputies to ensure all parts of the parish are regularly patrolled and to improve response times to 911 calls.

“Sometimes they get there and sometimes they don’t,” Ricard said, recounting the story of a woman who told him of calling the Sheriff's Office for help for nearly two hours. A deputy never showed up, he said.

Several people with similar complaints urged Ricard, who worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 18 years, to run for sheriff, he said. Another motivating factor was the 2007 shooting death of his son, Myron Hughes, in the southern part of the parish, who was a victim of a violent crime.

Ricard wants to recruit more parish residents to become deputies.

“St. Helena Parish — it’s not like other parishes,” he said. “It’s most basically woods, so therefore, by hiring a person that’s in the parish, then if he (is told to) ‘Go to John’s,’ he knows where that is. … Sometimes they can ride by and just talk to the people. We just want the people to know we’ve got law enforcement to protect them.”

He said he also wants to bring someone experienced in fighting drug crimes on board and look into building a modern jail. The existing facility has no space to house women, he said, so deputies must spend extra time driving female arrestees to jails in neighboring Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes.

“If we build that jail, it’s not going to be like the jail that they have up there. It’s been there since I was a little kid,” Ricard said.