Mar 21, 2011 - On the same day he received the Harry Lee Award from Crimestoppers Inc. honoring his career, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack A. Stephens – second longest-serving sheriff in parish history - officially announced he isn’t seeking re-election to an 8th term this October.
Now in office 27 years with more than a year to go before his 7th term term ends June 30, 2012, Stephens, 62, is currently the longest-serving sheriff in Louisiana.
Only Esteve Nunez, who served as St. Bernard Parish sheriff from 1879 until his death in 1909, has had a longer tenure in office as sheriff than Sheriff Stephens, according to parish historian William Hyland.
|St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack A. Stephens, second from the right, holds the Sheriff Harry Lee Criminal Justice Award he received March 17 from Crimestoppers Inc. of Greater New Orleans, honoring his career. With him, from left, are New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, Crimestoppers President and CEO Darlene Cusanza and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand. STEVE CANNIZARO PHOTO.
Stephens took office July 1, 1984, at the age of 35 after beating incumbent Sheriff Ralph McDougal in October 1983 and has since been re-elected six times, most recently in 2007.
The official announcement, in the form of a message to the citizens of St. Bernard Parish, came on Thursday, March 17, the same day Crimestoppers Inc. of Greater New Orleans honored Stephens with its Sheriff Harry Lee Criminal Justice Award at its luncheon in New Orleans to recognize Stephens’ career. Lee served as Jefferson Parish sheriff from 1980 until his death in 2007.
“I had deep affection and respect for him,’’ Sheriff Stephens said of Sheriff Lee as he accepted the award named for him from Crimestoppers President and CEO Darlene Cusanza. He noted at the podium that Lee was the first sheriff in the New Orleans area to call and congratulate him after Stephens’ first election.
“Sheriff Lee was always there for me,’’ Stephens said. He said he considered it “the culmination of my career in law enforcement’’ to receive an award that honors Lee’s memory
Lee, known for his shoot-from-the-hip style, was one of the most famous politicians in Louisiana history.
Cusanza, whose organization is celebrating 30 years of offering rewards for information on crime in the area – leading to numerous arrests – said the Sheriff Harry Lee Award is given “in recognition of someone who has served the community in the criminal justice arena.’’
She said of Sheriff Stephens: “He has been a wonderful friend and ally to Crimestoppers over the years,’’ saying for example, “He supported and assisted in lobbying for a $2 court fee in cases to help the reward process (for Crimestoppers) reach up to $2,500 and has provided someone to work with us to forward information for investigation.’’
Reflecting on his 27 years in office and retirement, Sheriff Stephens told an interviewer afterward receing the award: “Seven terms is a long time. The (St. Bernard Parish) Sheriff’s Office is in good shape now and can function fine without me.’’
Sheriff Stephens said in his official announcement he wouldn’t run for an 8th term that he considered retiring after his last term but decided to run again in the fall of 2007 to finish rebuilding the Sheriff's Office in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He won a runoff.
||Sheriff Stephens with Cusanza, who introduced him at the awards luncheon.
The following is Sheriff Stephens’ official announcement on his decision to retire, issued as a message to the citizens of the parish.
Sheriff Stephens: “I wish to formally announce I have decided not to seek re-election to the position of Sheriff of St. Bernard Parish.
“I contemplated retiring after my last term, but after consultation with members of the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office I decided to seek election for one additional term to complete the process of rebuilding the Sheriff’s Office in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“I feel the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office has now survived the challenges posed by the Hurricane and its aftermath, and I am confident the leadership within the Department, who served so proudly and courageously during our darkest hour, will continue their efforts to maintain the integrity of our community and to safeguard its residents.
“It has been a privilege to work with the men and women of the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office who are dedicated to serving the citizens of St. Bernard Parish and keeping them safe. I wish to extend my sincerest thanks to the employees of the Sheriff’s Office for their continued hard work and commitment to protecting St. Bernard and keeping it one of the safest communities in our area.
“I offer my gratitude to all members of the Criminal Justice system, including the District Attorney, the 34th Judicial District Court Judges and the office of the Clerk of Court, for their contributions to our crime fighting efforts.
“I wish also to thank the citizens of St. Bernard for their continued support during my tenure as Sheriff for our law enforcement efforts. It has been an honor to serve as Sheriff for the hard working, loyal and resilient citizens of St. Bernard Parish.”
Later, expounding on his message, he said he ran again in 2007 after individuals within the Sheriff’s Office told him following Hurricane Katrina “they would feel uncomfortable with a change of leadership’’ at that time and encouraged him to go seek another term.
“They had stayed and committed themselves to the parish and wanted continuity of leadership,’’ Sheriff Stephens said.”They (the deputies) wanted me to make the same commitment they had.’’
The sheriff, who previously received a major honor in law enforcement in August 2008 when he was inducted into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame, said he feels he has accomplished the mission of rebuilding the department after the hurricane.
|Sheriff Stephens' photo on giant screen as he is announced recipient of Sheriff Harry Lee Criminal Justice Award.
“Things are running smoothly’’ and for the most part crime has been suppressed, he said, as the Sheriff’s Office has restored nearly all of its components that were there prior to the storm. “Anything I have achieved as sheriff has always been because of the work of the men and women of the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office.’’
“I have always been proud of our aggressive approach to law enforcement,’’ that has led to St. Bernard being one of the safest, if not the safest, parish in Southeast Louisiana, he said. “Through good times and bad the Sheriff’s Office has kept the community safe.’’
“And we rebuilt our department and worked to give the people of this community the opportunity to rebuild their lives here after the hurricane, knowing they weren’t likely to be a victim of serious crime,’’ Sheriff Stephens said.
He said much of the credit for parish safety “goes to residents who have been so good about trusting us to report suspicious activity they see. They know we will act on what they report.’’
“We haven’t suffered from the violent crime seen in other areas,’’ he said. Streets have remained safe because so much effort by officers of the Sheriff’s Office goes into stopping street corner drug-dealing, he said. “If you are dealing an ounce or a pound we handle it the same way.’’
A guiding principle has been don’t let dealers establish a turf and there won’t be drug turf wars like those that have led to so many killings in other parishes, the sheriff said.
The sheriff also said he is proud of several other developments over the years, including
• There hasn’t been a police officer murdered in the line of duty in his tenure.
• There also hasn’t been a sustained civil rights complaint against the Sheriff’s Office.
• The re-opening of the adult prison and juvenile detention center after the hurricane was extremely important for law enforcement in St. Bernard Parish. When there was no way to hold juvenile offenders and many were released to the custody of parents or guardians directly after the storm there were numerous problems with youngsters involved in burglaries, thefts and drug-dealing. Those problems decreased severely when the juvenile center opened, the sheriff said.
A list of some of the other things Sheriff Stephens has accomplished in office includes:
||The sheriff with JoAnn Lane, head of the Civil Division; and Chief Deputy Sheriff James Pohlmann at the awards luncheon
• Brought professionalism to a suburban Sheriff’s Office
• Started up a network of sheriff’s sub-stations at all parish lines to help protect St. Bernard’s borders
• Established an Internal Affairs Division
• Started the first holiday ride home program in the New Orleans area to help prevent drinking-and-driving
• Tripled the number of law enforcement personnel in his department
• Created the Neighborhood Watch program to fight crime and Citizens Police Academy to teach residents basic operational procedures of the Sheriff’s Office and court system
• Established dope and traffic hotlines to battle drug-dealers and traffic violators
• Opened a 24-hour shelter for victims of domestic violence and has established a full-time domestic violence detective slot to handle follow-up investigations in domestic violence cases.
• Established the Sheriff’s Office as an active member of Crimestoppers to give incentives for people to report leads in unsolved crimes
• Oversaw the largest seizure ever of illegal drugs in St. Bernard in 1991, more than two tons of cocaine valued at $1 billion.