Sheriff, Vidalia police strive to make community safe

Published 12:01 am Monday, July 8, 2013

Concordia Parish Sheriff Kenneth Hedrick, left, and Vidalia Police Chief Arthur K. Lewis agree that strong communication between their departments is an important tool in the fight against crime. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

Concordia Parish Sheriff Kenneth Hedrick, left, and Vidalia Police Chief Arthur K. Lewis agree that strong communication between their departments is an important tool in the fight against crime. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

Locking up the bad guys, improving technology and training and saving a dime have all been on the agenda for two of the parish’s newest law enforcement leaders in the past year.

And the goals will remain the same going forward for Concordia Parish Sheriff Kenneth Hedrick and Vidalia Police Chief Arthur Lewis.

Both men were sworn into office for their first full terms a year ago, on July 1, 2012.

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Hedrick was elected in October, becoming the 35th sheriff for the parish. He previously served as an enforcement agent for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Ferriday’s police chief.

Lewis was elected to his first full term in March, but had filled the position for five months since a 2011 special election for the seat.

“We are both head of different agencies, but we think of each other as friends,” Lewis said. “One thing I think we can both agree on is that communication between agencies has been great. We are both doing our best to keep the community safe.”

Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office

During his campaign, Hedrick was focused on reducing drug distribution in the area, and now he’s pleased with the progress, he said.

“It seems like every day we are arresting someone for drugs,” he said. “I think we have done a good job of seeking out violators.”

The sheriff’s office made 443 narcotics-related arrests from July 2012 to June 30, 2013.

Another addition to the sheriff’s office during Hedrick’s first year in office was small, fingernail-sized cameras now worn by officers.

“If there is ever a problem with an incident, I can just put the camera footage on my computer and see what really happened,” he said.

Hedrick said he has also increased daily, neighborhood patrols and upgraded computer systems.

But Hedrick’s main focus, he said, is correcting the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office budget deficit.

Fiscal officer Donna Jones projected during a June budget meeting the department’s expenses would exceed revenue by more than $1.3 million.

The deficit isn’t unusual for the sheriff’s office.

“Our expenses have been more than our revenue for at least six to seven years,” Jones said. “There was a surplus at some point.”

To make up for the deficit, the sheriff’s office will draw from its reserve funds of approximately $3.5 million.

Hedrick said the sheriff’s office doesn’t have any glaringly large expenses, but will see cutbacks in some areas nonetheless.

“Layoffs are not something we want to do,” Hedrick said. “We are looking to cut our electricity bill and shave a few dollars here and there.”

Hedrick said, going forward into his second year, he wants to continue the sheriff’s office ride-along program. The program allows local residents to ride with deputies during their daily work.

Vidalia Police Department

During Lewis’ first year of his first full term in office, he said his primary focus has been increasing community outreach and training officers adequately.

As a part of Lewis’ community outreach efforts, the Vidalia Police Department hosts a public input session on the last Monday of every month at 6 p.m. at the police station.

“It’s their chance to come to us and make their concerns known,” Lewis said. “Aside from just hearing people’s concerns, I have also tried to let the public know that we are here to help them. We try to do that, especially in our schools.”

The police department has hired a new school resource officer and a Drug Abuse Resistance Education — D.A.R.E. — officer. Previously, the department only employed one school resource officer, Lewis said.

Lewis said he has also focused on workforce development, describing his police force as a youthful group.

“When I first came into office, some officers were terminated and some left on their own,” he said. “We lost some experience. But now I believe they are beginning to settle into their jobs.”

A critical part of workforce development, Lewis said, is improving communication between dispatchers and police officers.

“There is no reason that the police officer shouldn’t have all of the same information as the dispatcher,” he said. “An officer might go out on an animal call, but there turns out to be guns involved. The dispatcher holds the officer’s life in his or her hands to a certain extent.”

Lewis said he plans to continue developing his police force, with an ultimate goal of having a Concordia Parish police academy.

Technology may be the most noticeable upgrade at the Vidalia Police Department. In addition to adding more than 20 cameras around the police department, officers also wear cameras that record encounters with the public.

“We have had officers accused of inappropriate behavior, but the cameras often prove their innocence,” Lewis said.

Though Lewis is focused on his department, Lewis said he wants to continue to improve inter-department communication, using a recent police chase as an example.

“When Stanley Schickel took us all on a police chase, all the agencies worked together seamlessly,” Lewis said, referring to a recent chase involving a man wanted on several crime in Arizona. “Because we are one community, our law enforcement departments should function as one.”

Schickel allegedly burned down a Vidalia house before leading officers from three local agencies on a chase through the parish.