POSITION: Ascension Parish sheriff.
Jeff Wiley, the Ascension Parish sheriff since 1996, was sworn in Thursday for a fifth term. He was elected in September when both of his opponents — former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy J. Painter, of Gonzales, and Louis Boudreaux, of Donaldsonville — withdrew from the race during qualifying. Painter was indicted May 23 by a federal grand jury on improper use of state and federal law enforcement databases. Prior to serving as Ascension’s top elected law enforcement officer, Wiley served eight years as chief deputy under former Sheriff Harold Tridico and had earlier in his career served five years as a deputy sheriff. Wiley, who served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, also worked eight years as student services coordinator for the Ascension Parish school system, where he developed a substance abuse education program and placed substance abuse counselors in schools.
As you enter your fifth term as sheriff, how has the department changed during your tenure?
Numbers, clearly. Budget. The cost of doing business. Much more personal than that, the level of expertise and the caliber of new hires. The men and women who come here now are college, military, good work experience. Now, we always had some of that, but that’s the norm now.
What is your top goal for the department over the next four years?
We just completed a training center, a really magnificent facility, and we’re in the first quarter of trying to maximize that. We’re in a situation where, if we stay the same, we lose ground because we’re growing so much. We think the best way to do that is not just through strength in numbers but taking the people we have now and making sure they’re on the edge with training, whether it’s forensics, DNA, task force, drug interdiction, special ops, those sort of things.
How would you describe the crime rate in Ascension Parish?
Well, one crime’s too much and clearly you don’t have to look back but about four months ago to remember a very heinous crime that happened right in a sleepy, “crime-free area” in Dutchtown. Statistically, crime is down and it’s down in Ascension Parish. We live in a safe community, but we are tragically reminded often that people like to steal, people like to support their drug habits and sometimes they do it through violent means. Describing the crime rate, it’s statistically low as we measure against other populations 100,000 or so — that’s how the FBI crime rate is — so we measure low on those. But I can tell you that we have a lot of burglaries — car burglaries, house burglaries. Homicides, not so many thankfully. Armed robberies, not so many thankfully. Property crimes, we’re about at the national average.
What have been the biggest challenges your department has faced as the parish has grown so rapidly?
Occasionally, budget because we have two revenue streams — a property tax base and a sales tax base. The property tax has stayed static and stable and indeed has increased. Sales tax kind of does the up and down as the economy goes, so we’ve had some challenges with that. The reality is when you hire good people and you train good people, obviously you want to retain them. You do it by making sure they can afford to raise their families and live a decent lifestyle. What’s vital is to balance the responsibility of the fiscal dollar, the tax dollar, with making sure our employees get their fair share of compensation. That will continue to be the big challenge.
Are there specific areas of need for the department?
I am in the discussion phase only with my staff about a little more substation presence out on the north end somewhere. We don’t have a site — we’ve got some potential ideas — and we don’t even really have a model yet, but if there’s any more capital outlay done in this next four years, it will probably be in that regard.
Advocate staff writer
Bret H. McCormick