Local homeland security could see changes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 30, 2006

VIDALIA &8212; A homeland security bill before the state legislature isn&8217;t needed in Concordia Parish, some local officials said.

Baton Rouge lawmakers are divided over whether to split homeland security from emergency preparedness, and they&8217;ve got the competing bills to prove it.

One would put homeland security under the purview of the sheriffs, and another would strengthen the police juries&8217; authority over parish emergencies.

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The local police jury voted Monday night to send a resolution in favor of keeping homeland security and emergency preparedness together under the jury&8217;s jurisdiction. They passed another resolution opposing the plan to give the sheriff control.

Jury President Melvin Ferrington said after the meeting the move to relocate homeland security wasn&8217;t necessary in Concordia Parish.

&8220;Our office of emergency preparedness and homeland security has the experience to handle anything,&8221; he said.

He cited the parish&8217;s performance during the aftermath of last year&8217;s hurricanes as evidence.

&8220;Everybody worked hand in hand and did very well together.&8221;

Currently, Concordia Parish&8217;s Office of Homeland Security operates out of its Office of Emergency Preparedness. As director of both offices, Morris White is in charge of catastrophe &8212; be it natural or man-made &8212; planning and management.

White said the Concordia system &8212; like other parishes that were more impacted by the sheltering and caring crunch that came after the storms &8212; is not broken.

&8220;Except for the flooded areas of the state, the other parishes did an excellent job,&8221; White said. &8220;We have the foundation for it and the knowledge.&8221;

Under Senate Bill 628, authored by Robert Barham, R- Oak Ridge, the responsibility for security preparedness and response would fall under the sheriff&8217;s office. The sheriff would appoint a director, who would be in charge of overseeing anti-terrorism planning and response.

With it would come directing the allocation of federal homeland security grant money and sponsorship responsibility for homeland security grant applications.

Sheriff Randy Maxwell said putting the homeland security under his office&8217;s domain makes sense.

&8220;We&8217;re the first ones who get called and the first ones who respond anyway,&8221; he said. &8220;We have the manpower, resources and equipment to answer during emergencies.&8221;

Not only would Senate Bill 23, by Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, keep the offices together, it would mandate that each parish&8217;s police jury president be named to the top of the disaster chain of command.

No matter what the Legislature decides to do, Ferriday Police Chief Richard Madison said he wants his city to be safe from disaster.

&8220;I want to know how this is going to impact my town,&8221; he said. &8220;As police chief, I have a responsibility to protect the people in my community.&8221;

Vidalia Police Chief Billy Hammers said that either way the grant money his department receives is well received.

&8220;We&8217;re happy with any money we get,&8221; he said.

As for who divvies it out, Hammers said that was up to the politicians.

&8220;That&8217;s why we have legislators; somebody who is over all that to decide the best way to distribute that money.&8221;

The bills could come before the senate next week. If passed, house approval would still be needed.