Sheriff Bobby Webre discusses first 100 days in office

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief
Sheriff Bobby Webre stops to say hello to men gathered for lunch at the Country Kitchen in Gonzales on Friday, May 31.

"I will tell you, it feels like an incredible whirlwind," Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre, who is running for re-election this year, said. "It's hard to believe it's been close to five months already."

Sheriff Webre is not wrong. In his first 100 days as sheriff, he's seen at least three homicides, including the Dakota Theriot case and a triple shooting in Geismar. He's overseen a $600k drug bust, a Bishop Woods home invasion with a suspect dead, bookings for multiple vehicle burglaries, an arrest for gunfire at a party in Donaldsonville, and even the arrest of a former Catholic Priest for felony theft.

The Weekly Citizen took an opportunity to speak with Webre on Friday, May 31. Since Jeff Wiley's retirement, Webre has taken no time getting started as the leader of the Ascension Parish police force.

"Our department, our team hit the ground running," he said. "We kind of knew we were going to do this. As chief deputy, there's a possibility that you're going to be sheriff, and you start thinking about things you want to do to build upon the success that we've already experienced."

Webre said that in his 34 years at the sheriff's office, he has witnessed the enormous growth of the parish. Since he took oath as sheriff on January 10, 2019 after the early retirement of Wiley, his first and main priority is to "Keep Ascension Safe." It has become sort of his slogan in this election year.

One of the first things he discussed was the expansion of the police training facility on St. Landry Road in Gonzales.

"We've really become almost a regional training site," he said. "We train so many people. Local, state, and federal agencies use our facility, and we are proud to let them use it."

The sheriff discussed that he began hiring more personnel immediately, because it will take a deputy almost a year of training before they are working on patrol. Along with the process of expanding the force, another achievement of Webre's in his first 100 days is the opening of a new patrol district, District 3 in Prairieville.

He said the earlier concept of a west side and an east side had to be improved upon with population growth. Now, there's a northwest district.

"That's one of the first things we wanted to do," he said. "We said let's get our patrol division where it needed to be with a sufficient amount of personnel and have three distinct districts."

The three districts each have their own district commander.

"He's a captain," Webre said. "He has four lieutenants and four staff sergeants and a cadre of deputies.

"You will stay and you will invest in that district that you're assigned to," he said. "Which means you get to know the businesses better, you get to know the residents better, you get to have more community policing there, your call and response time is shorter, and it's motivational. It gives that district commander an opportunity to lead."

Next, Webre was the warden of the Donaldsonville Jail for 16 of his 34 years with the sheriff's office. Jails that are well managed operate under a tight group of standards, policies, and protocols. Webre is proud to have had the jail accredited through the American Correctional Association in 2003. Nonetheless, Webre has begun the process to get the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office accredited.

"Everything in a correctional facility has to be proactive," he said. "You have to do things. I don't know if you would've ever thought about going to a college that was not accredited. I don't know if you'd ever consider spending the night in a hospital that's not accredited."

Webre and his staff decided to take on the challenge of accreditation with CALEA, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, based in Gainesville, Va. They signed on in late February, early March with the goal of becoming one of the best law enforcement agencies in Louisiana, Webre said.

"It's over 100 standards," he said. "It's a two-year process. We hope we can make it in two years. The process has started."

Webre and the late Col. Ward Webb began the process of implementing standards and procedures by a company called Lexipol a few years ago. APSO was the first department in Louisiana to use the company's program.

Lexipol, the brainchild of Risk Management Specialist Gordon Graham founded a list of standard practices for firemen and police but originally found it difficult to implement in Louisiana.

That is because sheriff's departments in Louisiana are their own governmental entity, unlike anywhere else in the country, Webre said. They have their own source of funding, their own HR, insurance policies, policies on leave, sick time, etc.

"So when [Lexipol] came to Louisiana they were like 'Whoa!'" Webre said. "We've got to write policies and procedures for everything because you are your own separate governmental entity. It was a challenge for them, and it was a challenge for us.

"We got it right, and now we're getting calls from other sheriff's offices saying we want to model that. We won't be the first accredited police department in Louisiana, but we'll be one of the few."

Next, Webre began a "Listening Tour" when he became sheriff. He stopped at nine places in the parish. He said there was never a contentious meeting and citizens were mostly concerned with population growth and traffic issues.

"We don't have runaway violent crime rates," Webre said. "Our violent crime and property crime rates are certainly below the Louisiana level and the Southern region level, but it's quality of life issues."

The sheriff mentioned the nationwide opioid crisis. He said fentanyl, a pain reliever that when mixed with heroin becomes potentially lethal, is the current focus. He is working to begin distributing Narcan injectors to deputies, which firemen and ems workers currently carry to quickly help reverse an overdose.

"Our overdose numbers are increasing, and if it wouldn't be for Narcan I believe our overdose numbers would be even higher," he said.

In order to fight the opioid epidemic, Webre has reinstated the K-9 unit program. He recently signed an agreement with U.S. K-9 to purchase two German malinoises. Malinoises look like German Shepherds, but smaller.

"It's been a long time since we've used dogs, and it's extremely challenging," he said. "We're really excited about putting dogs back on the force, and that should start next January. You can get the small guy off the street, but hopefully those dogs will help us get the bigger fish."

Furthermore, funding for the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office comes from two sources: 14 mills are dedicated to the department from property tax, and the other source is a dedicated half-cent sales tax, which was fought for and achieved by Wiley's campaigning for it during his first term as sheriff.

"Here's the key," Webre said. "We told the public exactly what we were going to do. We're hiring 31 new officers, we're providing all of our deputies with bulletproof vests, we're expanding our training facility, we're going to a standardized weapon, buying a fleet of new patrol cars. And that sales tax passed by a wide margin."

The current funding is sufficient and will lead the department into the future, he said.

"I give Jeff Wiley and staff the credit because nobody was saying to go after a tax in your first term, are you crazy? That's the kind of leader he was. That's why he was so successful. You learn a lot from your predecessors."

Moreover, Webre increased the department's program division. That includes the junior deputy program and the anti-bullying initiative through the school board and Leadership Ascension. It also includes the SALT (Seniors and Lawmen Together) program.

Since Webre is on the board for the Ascension Council on Aging, he has been able to encourage more activity with the SALT program. Public Information Officer Allison Hudson said that there were more participants on a recent SALT boating trip than they have ever seen.

"Seniors are my passion," he said. "You take your paper, you open up the arrests section. We fight crime. But we are also going to be a partner with the schools, with the parish government, with the city. That's a blessing that you don't see in other places. To have the complete buy-in from police, sheriff, fire, government, and school. It's rare, and it's taken time."

Webre finished by saying that with anything he accomplishes as sheriff, credit has to be shared with the department.

"A sheriff has to provide leadership for this department and keep it heading in the right direction," Webre said. "Philosophically, this is where our department is going. A good, strong leader will come in and say, 'Hey, I have these nine initiatives that I want to implement.'

"Now, I know you can't do it in nine months. I know it takes time. But I find that when you motivate people, most of those initiatives are ideas that I've talked about with other command staff leaders a year ago. So most of it is not my idea, and I'll never take credit for that. I'll take credit for leading the department through that, but it's these young men and women, these supervisors that make these things happen, and you always have to share the credit with them."

The election is October 12. Qualifying is the 6, 7, and 8th of August.