A former Pointe Coupee sheriff’s deputy and head of the Morganza tourism office says he plans to boost spending to retain deputies and create more options for connecting law enforcement with young people after unseating long-time sheriff Beauregard "Bud" Torres III this weekend.
Rene Thibodeaux, a Democrat, defeated Torres by 16 percentage points, according to unofficial results. Thibodeaux said his win shows voters wanted a change in leadership for the parish’s top law enforcement officer. Thibodeaux picked up 58 percent of the 10,052 votes cast ballots in the race, with a turnout of 63.4 percent.
“I think the parish just made a big statement that they were looking for a change,” Thibodeaux said this week. "I just think my personality and being who I am was a good message.”
On the campaign trail, Thibodeaux touted his years of experience in law enforcement and relationships with local police office chiefs in the parish.
He previously worked 11 years as a sheriff’s deputy under Torres, serving also as a D.A.R.E. officer in parish schools, a program he hopes to restart when he takes office on Jan. 1.
Thibodeaux said he also plans to add mentoring programs aimed at steering kids away from criminal activity by working with the schools to curb truancy. One program he’s considering would force students who cut class to attend criminal court hearings, talk to judges and stay at the parish jail.
Torres, a Democrat who has served as sheriff for the past 11 years, said he’s working with Thibodeaux to ensure a smooth transition.
Torres said the results of the Oct. 12 election are evidence of a shift in the parish.
“The community wanted a change, and I had not had a challenger in two previous elections,” he said. "The population changed, people changed.”
The incoming administration will inherit a budget surplus, from which Thibodeaux said he plans to put some of the extra funds to attract and keep deputies from leaving for prospects of higher pay at other agencies.
He said he's observed significant turnover within the department in recent years. Salaries and benefits haven’t kept pace with neighboring parishes, leading to an exodus of employees attracted by higher pay, Thibodeaux said.
"If you can make a lot more money, it's easy to walk off sometimes," he said, adding that the loss of experienced officers who know the community make it more difficult to bond with the people in the parish.
Torres said he’s proud of the work his office has done in past years, including maintaining a healthy budget and bringing closure to the handful of homicide cases the parish has each year.
He plans to continue living in the parish but has no immediate plans after his term ends a the end of the year.
"I'm taking each day at a time and trying and leave on a high note," Torres said.