Insurer pulling out in November
The liability insurer of the Sorrento Police Department will cancel its coverage in mid-November, prompting town officials to consider whether to disband the department in favor of the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Mayor Mike Lambert said Chief Earl Theriot Jr., an elected official, must make a recommendation to the town about how to proceed, whether to seek a new insurer, disband the department or possibly start fresh with a new department.
“Chief Theriot is going to have to make a recommendation as to what he wants to do with the Police Department,” Lambert said Tuesday.
He added the consensus of the council is to disband the department and seek Sheriff’s Office protection or restart the town department.
Theriot did not return a message for comment Tuesday afternoon.
When asked, Lambert said there is no requirement for the town to have liability insurance for the Police Department, but he questioned taking a risk of exposing the town to the potential liability.
“I do not think it would be a good business decision to operate without insurance,” he said.
Jerry Cronin, general manager of Risk Management Inc., a self-funded insurance pool for municipalities that is under the Louisiana Municipal Association, wrote town officials an Oct. 21 letter that their police liability and police vehicle liability insurance will be canceled Nov. 19, Lambert said.
A copy of the letter was not immediately available Tuesday, but Lambert said the insurer informed the town the excessive number of claims was the reason for the cancellation.
The department has been beset by lawsuits and claims of harassment and office misconduct in recent years. The department woes have been part of a larger pattern in past years of turmoil in the town leadership.
As Lambert and a largely new Town Council took office last year, more of the town’s management problems have come light.
Cronin disputed the number of claims was the reason for the insurance cancellation.
He said the reason was Sorrento “failed to meet the underwriting requirements to maintain coverage.”
He declined, however, to say what those requirements are, only indicating they are immaterial.
When asked, he said Risk Management does not often cancel the insurance of one its municipal policy holders.
When told of Cronin’s comments Tuesday, Mayor Lambert stood by his claim that Cronin told town officials Monday that the number of claims was the reason for the cancellation, but he added there were also “some issues that the chief did not comply with.”
Lambert declined to reveal what those were, saying only they regarded “personnel issues.”
The cancellation came to light Tuesday afternoon when Sheriff Jeff Wiley issued a public letter to the residents of Sorrento that his office would provide police protection should Sorrento police not be able to.
“While the future of the Sorrento Police Department lies in the hands of elected officials of the town, I want to assure you, the residents and citizens of Sorrento, that there will be no interruption of Law Enforcement services should the town police services be curtailed or eliminated,” Wiley wrote.
Lambert said he, Theriot and council members Donald “Don” Schexnaydre and Marvin Martin met with Wiley on Monday night about their options.
Wiley’s letter references the possibility of his office providing service long-term but solely through his department.
“In the long term, I will expect much more discussion between myself and town officials and these discussions will involve contracts, payment of services,” Wiley wrote. He also said he would agree to a contract only if “my department would be the sole and exclusive provider of Law Enforcement services while we are on duty.”
Wiley has long had a similar agreement with the town of Donaldsonville, which has no police force.
Mayor Lambert said the Sorrento Police Department has five full-time officers, two clerks and Theriot on the payroll. Lambert said there are several unpaid reserve officers also.
Lambert said the insurance provided by Risk Management costs about $30,000 annually.