An Interview with the Chief — El Cid

October 4, 2007

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“It’s over with, the state police said there was no wrong doing, as far as I’m concerned it’s finished business. If he wants to dwell on that it’s going to be up to him. As far as I’m concerned it’s over with.”

For insight into why I am referring to Sid Gautreaux as El Cid, here’s a wikipedia reference. Don’t complain before you read the reference.

Louisiana Conservative: “Sid, how are you doing today?”
Sid Gautreaux: “Doing great, doing great, there’s just… not enough hours in the day.”

LC: “What prompted you to run for Sheriff?”
SG: “Jeff, when I decided years ago that law enforcement was going to be my career…I went to work for East Baton Rouge Parish, that’s the first agency I went to work for, that was back in 1976 and I worked for a year at the prison, I was a sergeant in uniform patrol. I resigned to run for Chief of Police in Baker and I was in my seventh consecutive term there and I was very blessed that I didn’t have anybody run against me the last four times, that’s because I got good people working for me, but to answer your question and you can go back and see some of those guys that I road with me back in the days and they remind me today, they say “You said you were going to be Sheriff one day”. It was just a personal goal I set, back when I was with the Sheriff’s office, I said ‘you know, I’d like to serve this Parish as Sheriff’ and that’s been there and that’s what I’ve been preparing for all my career.

LC: “The State Police came down with a ruling, do you want to tell us a little bit about, maybe go into a little bit about what happened with that?
SG: “Yeah basically, this happens in every campaign, I don’t care who the candidate is, with these political signs. Stolen, you have some signs destroyed, or whatever. It happens to every candidate, every race, no matter what it is and we were having our share of signs being stolen or destroyed. We had a sign that was out in front of a local business and the business owner kept telling us, it was a small sign, that the sign kept coming up missing. So we’d go back and put it up and one particular day when two of the people that put the sign up were still in the parking lot, they saw a vehicle drive up, they alleged the guy got out, took up my sign and put down one of my opponent’s sign, which was a Phares sign and we didn’t have that on tape. They went up and photographed the truck with a cellphone and they got the license number. I ran the license number. Well, I ran the license plate, which I know what the law, I know I was within in my rights to do so because they reported an alleged criminal… a theft. Well, and the reason I say I’m, I’m fully aware of the law, I’m still a commissioned police officer with Baker and I’ve been a commissioned deputy with West Feliciana Parish since June. When I found out the truck came back to a registered deputy, I didn’t file a complaint, I didn’t go to the media, I didn’t want to make anything of it. I had my campaign coordinator call Greg and tell him whatever he wants to do (with it), however he wants to handle it, it’s finished business (with Sid).”I knew it would probably boil down to these people’s word against the deputy’s word, I didn’t want to make anything of it anyway, I just wanted him to be aware of it and however he wanted to handle it. Well he chose to make an issue of this and filed a request with the state police to do an investigation into it. The State Police wrote Chief Knaps a letter saying they found absolutely no wrong doing with me, they knew I had a right to run it, and pretty much exonerated the Baker Police of any wrong doing. Now they did cite that one, the way that they entered it, the procedure that they needed to do it differently. But they found nothing wrong with me running a plate, or the Baker police running it for me as a commissioned officer. Beyond that, I think it’s just ridiculous that he wants to still bring this thing and try to make an issue of it when we got real important issues in this sheriff’s race. To me, the only person who made this an issue was him. I gave him the professional courtesy of just saying ‘hey, this is what me people say they saw, here it is, and however you want to deal with it, deal with it. I was history, he didn’t even have to get back to me and the next thing I know I got a reporter calling me wanting to know about this violating this policy. It’s over with, the state police said there was no wrong doing, as far as I’m concerned it’s finished business. If he wants to dwell on that it’s going to be up to him. As far as I’m concerned it’s over with.”

“This is my point, to me, the average citizen in East Baton Rouge Parish is more concerned, not of some possible terrorist attack that may or may not occur on that river, but it’s the everyday terrorism that’s occurring in our neighborhoods and our streets today.”

LC: “Let’s talk about that important business, one of the things that I noticed, and from personal experience of being robbed at gunpoint, we have a high murder rate in Baton Rouge, we ranks right up with some of the larger cities, what will you do as sheriff to bring down the murder rate?”
SG: “Jeff, as a Sheriff, I’m elected by every person in the parish to represent the entire Parish. Although the Sheriff’s primary responsibilities of enforcement are in the unincorporated areas of the parish, I’m just as equally concerned with the crime rate in the city of Baton Rouge, the city of Zachary, the city of Baker, and the city of Central because it affects all of us, it affects all of our citizens. That’s why I’m indifferent when I look at statistics that come out of the sheriff’s office is primarily given for the unincorporated areas because I’m elected to serve all the people. The criminal element knows no boundaries, they cross city limits, they cross Parish lines and it’s the same ones that prey upon all of us. What I’m going to do as Sheriff is something that has never been done before, and believe me I’ve been in law enforcement for 31 years, we’ve talked about it but it never gets accomplished. That is bringing all local law enforcement entities together. Bringing us to the table as equals, to truly share information to help solve and to help prevent crime. I’m not going to bring you in and say ‘Jeff tell me everything you know but I’m just going to tell you what I want you to know.’ I’m talking about truly working together.

“One of our badges is not any heavier than the others, but if you stop and think about it, you got ten local law enforcement entities here. You got the Sheriff’s office, the city police (Baton Rouge), Baker police, Zachary police, Central police, Airport police, Southern police, LSU police, Baton Rouge Community College, and you got the Constable’s office. That’s just local agencies, that’s not even counting the state and federal agencies you have. I want to bring these people together. I want to create an environment that they don’t feel like they have to be a part of, but that they want to be a part of, because we going to truly get something accomplished. We’re going to communicate, we’re going to work together, we’re going to form coalitions to help make our community safer. If Jeff LeDuff has a murder problem in Baton Rouge, or any problem, I want to be able to go to Chief LeDuff as Sheriff as say ‘Jeff, what can I do to help? What can we do together to help this problem?’ and that’s the way I’ve always approached this and it’s not only going to be here but I also want to reach out to the surrounding Parishes. Jeff, there’s going to be people that tell you, ‘you can’t do this’, well, the reason it hasn’t been done because people such as myself, Chiefs, Sheriffs, whatever, we let our egos get in the way of our better judgment. We get out on territories that we don’t want invaded and that day in law enforcement is long gone. We can no longer approach the challenges and problems we have with the same old methods and the same old mindset and expect any different result. We have got to innovate, we’ve got to think outside the box and we have to take a straight line approach to this thing collectively because Jeff LeDuff could making the city of Baton Rouge the safest he possibly can and I’m not doing it in the Parish and we’re not working together, then the Parish is still going to suffer.

“I’m telling you it can be done and I’ll validate that, as chief of Baker Police Department we were involved in the Delta Drug Task Force, one of the most successful drug task force in the state of Louisiana. It consisted of the East Feliciana Sheriff’s office, the West Feliciana Sheriff’s office, Point Coupee Sheriff’s office, St. Francisville, Baker, and Zachary (police departments) and Baker police was the lead agency and I was the chairman of it. We had problems, but when we did, we sat down together and said ‘Alright Chief, alright Sheriff, what is your concern? what is it we have have to do to fix whatever you perceive to be broke or to address your problem?’. We did that because we knew how much good it was going to do for the public. When I’m Sheriff, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s office will be part of that task force and anybody else that wants to be a part of it. That’s how we’re going to fight the drug problem in one front. There’s more than one thing as you well know, but those things can be accomplished. It’s just communicating and making sure that everybody has a level playing field, and that’s been a problem, it’s been a problem in the past. It’s something I going to do everything I can as Chief law enforcement agency to eliminate that but it takes everybody. You can’t just stand alone in today’s world and say ‘I’m doing this here and that’s all I gotta do.’ It’s more complicated than that, we’ve got to work together and if we don’t we’re not going to get the success we need.

“East Baton Rouge Parish, and you well know this, overnight, we went to the largest populated population in the state. We’re not going to go back from that, that is here to stay. In one week, we exceeded our 25 year traffic count, that’s not going to go away, that’s here to stay. Although this Parish is facing some tremendous challenges, if we meet these challenges like we should, thinking outside the box, being innovative, working together, I think that we can take a giant step forward. If we don’t,we’re going to take a giant step backwards. I think we have some tremendous opportunities here as well, because we can take East Baton Rouge Parish to another level.”

LC: “What are some of the positive things going on in the Sheriff’s department? I know that’s kind of… (chuckling)
SG: “When I talk to the officers, I sent everyone of them a personal letter from me trying to dispel some of the rumors and some of the things that they were being told that weren’t true like I’m going to fire half of them, that I’m going to make everybody move, I’m going to this and that. I wanted them to hear from me and not only did I write them a letter but I gave them all my cellphone number. I want them to tell me. I can tell you that the morale of the Sheriff’s department, overall, is worse than it’s ever been and these guys, the men and women of the department, they can’t get out and really campaign because they are at will employees and quite frankly they have valid concerns with their jobs. One thing that has been done, and there again, this is where we differ, we learned some hard lessons from Columbine High School, 9-11, Virginia Tech, and from several others,. We learned some lessons and that lesson is that we have to be vigilant, we have to be prepared, we have to have people trained to respond to those things. We have them trained, we have to have them equipped, you got to have those special entities, you got to have those special weapons, you got to have a special response team and I in no way admonish the needs for that at all.

“I think that the Sheriff’s office has put too much emphasis on that and taken away from where the real emphasis needs to be and that uniform patrol is the backbone of any department. If you don’t have a strong uniform police patrol, you’re going to have problems. I think the prison is something that is sorely in need, it’s antiquate, there’s not enough personell out there for the inmates.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the boat on the river. I’m not against having the boat on the river, but this is my point, God forbid, but if there’s a terrorist event that takes place on the river, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department will be there for support, but it’s going to be taken over by the feds, homeland security. If there is an accident on the river, we’re going to be there for support, but it’s up to the coast guard to handle that, clean up, the investigation of it. If there’s a bridge collapse, we’ll be there to support whatever we have to, and thank God we’ve only had three major bridge collapses in the United States in the last forty years. Hopefully that won’t happen. There’s a possibility that those things can happen and we’re going to be ready to meet that. To me, there’s too much emphasis put in those areas and too much taken away from uniform patrol, which is the most visible deterrent to crime out here, the first line of defense so to speak, with the public. That’s where we really differ. I am in no way going to abolish any of those things that’s been done and if there’s any good thing that’s been done, I think we do have a good special weapons and response team now, I think it’s better than it was five or six years ago and that’s the only positive thing that I see.

“This is my point, to me, the average citizen in East Baton Rouge Parish is more concerned, not of some possible terrorist attack that may or may not occur on that river, but it’s the everyday terrorism that’s occurring in our neighborhoods and our streets today. That East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s department is not responsible for the traffic on that river, it’s responsible for traffic on the streets in our Parish, so I think the priorities are just wrong and I understand it. I know Greg’s background, that’s where he’s been with the terrorist training, he was a detective and a good one. He’s made the statement that he’s not in the crime prevention business, he’s in the crime solving business. Well, I do both. If I could I could prevent a crime from occurring that’s my main objective. Now, if it occurs, then I want an apprehension, and I want a conviction. But you can’t just focus in on one segment with the Sheriff’s office, the Sheriff wears two hats. He’s a civil deputy and he’s a criminal deputy. Both are equally important but the one that gets the most attention is the criminal side of it because that’s what affects people’s quality of life.”

LC: “You said the prison is antiquated, what do you mean by that?”
SG: “Let me tell you, with the prison, I started in the prison, it’s antiquated, it’s outdated, it’s not set up to have those persons other than the surveillance that they need to be under. Were paying $90,000 a month, approximately, out of Parish. I know what the law is, I know that the Sheriff has to incarcerate people and he has the authority of the law that if he doesn’t have room in his prison he can do this, he can send them out. The law provides for that. That’s not the issue with me, the issue is we’re spending $90,000 a month. We’re going to do something. (laughter)We’re going to bring in modular housing, and I know this is a partnership that really the city Parish is responsible for the maintenance for prison. I know there’s a lot of things being looked at. Certainly I’m going to look at that as Sheriff too. Maybe look at private-public partnerships as far as some of more innovative financial models that are out there. I don’t know what the answer is (going to be), something needs to be done. Whether we need to remodel, add on, or build a whole new prison, something needs to be done.”One of the things I’m a big proponent on is this, we need a strong work release program, because if I have 500 inmates that qualify for work release and I got them in a work release facility, the business community is benefiting by that, those inmates when they do their time and have gotten out, they’ve already got a job, they don’t have to go looking for a job. So it thinks it helps to re-citizens them and I know it does because there’s been studies done.”I want to take another section of the prison and have it for these first time offenders, misdemeanors type of criminals because those are the ones you really need to hone in on and to try to reach, try to convert them. When you throw a fencerider, so to speak, you know these are the type of guys that can go either way. If you throw him in jail with a career criminal and you let him sit there, he’s not going to come out anything but a career criminal. I’ve seen it, I’ve been there and I seen it. Those are a lot of ideas that I have, and a lot of this I’m going to have to sit with city parish government and say ‘what are our options?'”The night that that inmate was beat up and resulted in his death, there was 314 inmates on that wing, there was only two line deputies. Now when I worked at Parish prison in 1976, we had two line deputies to a line and a whole lot of deputies. I called the warden in Angola and said ‘What is your ratio inmates to guards?’ and he said that in the housing units one corrections officer to every nine prisoners. We aren’t anywhere close to that here. I’m not saying that we have to have that and if we have the video surveillance and the things necessary, you wouldn’t have to have as many people. But back about five years ago, the coaxial cable was run, I know the deputy that ran it and here’s six trustees that ran all this coaxial cable back in the lines for this video and the camera still hasn’t been installed. It’s crazy.”LC: “You brought up surveillance cameras and I want to know, I guess I’m just a little leery of where the government is going to go with this. It seems so 1984, video camera’s are coming up everywhere, surveillance cameras everywhere. London, England has what four cameras for every individual and their not solving crimes. How do you feel about surveillance cameras?”
SG: “I’d say surveillance cameras in prisons are good because, and I think you can’t have enough of them, now I know why they don’t have them in some cases, because it shows and tells all. You got to make sure that your people that your people are doing what their supposed to be doing. But as Sheriff, I’m not only entrusted with my employees safety, I’m custodian of all those prisoners, which means, I’m in charge of their well being. I don’t want to get the Parish sued because I was negligent or because I didn’t provide the protection. Prison is a violent place, and there’s violent people in there and you’re going to have violence that occurs, but the more video surveillance the less likely you have, in a prison setting.”Now outside a prison setting, I don’t want to see the United States, I don’t want to see Baton Rouge get to the point where we got a video camera at every house and everybody, you know, I’m like you on that. There’s a certain part about me as an individual, I don’t want big brother inside my house, I don’t want him outside my front door, but I think there are certain public areas that need it. They don’t have to be in every subdivision, but in your problem areas where you have a lot of crime going on, I think they serve a good purpose. I think there’s a fine line, I think you can take it too far. But in public areas, in public places like some of these intersections where you have wrecks that are commonly occurring and you have 9 or 10 deaths a year, if people know that there are cameras up there and see who’s running red lights, it’s prudent up there. But I’m like you, as a citizen, as a private individual, as an American, I think the government can go too far, but that’s why you got to elect the right people to represent you.”

LC: “If there’s one single motto that you would lead the Sheriff’s department with”
SG: “I’m a people person, I’m a hands on person, I’m no where near a monarchy. Where I’m going with this is that I got to know my people. When I go in there as Sheriff I’m going to meet with each and every employee of the Sheriff’s department, both individually and in groups. I want them to know plain and clear about how we’re going to go about accomplishing our mission. I want them to know what I expect of them and I want to know what they expect of me.

“That’s one thing, I never forget where I came from. There was five people that went to school with me that haven’t seen me since we graduated are people that I went through the FBI academy with and they say ‘Man, you’re the same guy’. I haven’t let any position go to my head and that’s been the key to my success. When I got into law enforcement, it was not about the badge and the gun, it’s about truly trying to help people and trying to make a difference and I can tell you the people that I’ve hired through the years, I’ve looked at three things. You look at their physical stature, you look at their intelligence, and you look at their heart and their heart is the most important thing because if they have the right heart, their in it for the right reasons. You can have all the brawn and all the brain but no heart and your not going to make a good police officer. Now, you can be lacking a little bit with the brawn, and you can be a little lacking up here (points to head and we both laugh) but you can’t be too lacking because this is too complex but you can be a little lacking up here, but you can make up for that by what’s in here (heart). That’s me, I am who I am, I’m not going to change. I’ve always had a certain mentality and one of the best definitions of a real true leader is he’s a servant and it’s not just a servant to the people, it’s a servant to the people you work with. That’s what I always try to tell myself. My approach to life is the same way I approach law enforcement. I want to serve everybody the way I want them to treat me. Now some people won’t allow that, but you just have to do what you have to do.

“I tell my officers, it’s not only treat the public that way, but to treat each other that way. You know when I see an officer disrespecting another officer, when I see that going on, what’s going through my head is, ‘if he’s doing that to a fellow officer, how’s he treating the public?’ That’s why I can tell you after working in this Parish for 31 years, being involved, Kip put me on his transition team for public safety, I worked with the fire and they know that’s why I got the Baton Rouge City Police’s endorsement, that’s why I got the Baton Rouge Firemen endorsement in this race, and that’s why I got Kip’s endorsement in this race. It’s because they know me, they know what I’m about, where I come from and I’m not going to let it go to my head. People tell me, man you’ve been the Chief and haven’t had anybody run against you. It’s no big secret, it’s not rocket science, I got good people working for me because I don’t care what kind of ideas you have, what dreams or goals, if you don’t have good people working for you, you won’t get anything accomplished. But the secret to Sid Gautreaux is and my success has been just that, I’m a people person. You might find somebody that knows the law better than me, you might find somebody that may be a little better administrator than me, but you’re not going to find anybody who knows people better than I do, and I treat them better. That’s what this is all about, at least it should be. Yes it’s a business, I’ve run that, they want to talk about budgets, budgets are the same whether it’s a three million dollar budget or a sixty million dollar budget, it’s the same business principle, it’s the same things that you have to do, it’s the same checks and balances.

LC: “Thank you Sid for taking the time out with me.”
SG: “Thank you Jeff.”

Editors note: Due to some interference in the recording and the longevity of the post, I decided to cut the remaining part of the interview short. Although there’s still about another 15 minutes remaining, I feel that this interview gives the readers a good feel of who Sid Gautreaux is.

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