MANDEVILLE, La. -- When handcuffs were put on people for allegedly committing a felony crime in St. Tammany Parish between 2013 and 2014, almost 80 percent were convicted.
At the same time, when Walter Reed was District Attorney in the 22nd Judicial District and Jack Strain was Sheriff of St. Tammany, crime rates in St. Tammany during that time were some of the lowest in the country.
That's one of several statistics outlined Wednesday in a report about the performance of the St. Tammany Justice System.
Two years ago, the Metropolitan Crime Commission put the system's police, prosecutors and judges under the microscope at the request of the Northshore Business Council.
"Lets face it, riding on the coattails of our prior DA and Coroner, the people demanded transparency," said Northshore Business Council member Bruce Wainer, "We heard them and we delivered."
In November, part one of the study revealed most of St. Tammany's judges were efficient in quickly clearing cases from their dockets. Wednesday, the Crime Commission also commended a strong police focus on the most serious crimes and a quickness of getting those cases into a courtroom.
"We have zero tolerance for criminal behavior," said Sheriff Randy Smith. "As we see our parish continue to grow in population, we must prepare for the future growth and work together."
"The report is so helpful to me because it establishes parameters so that I can evaluate the office and make the right decisions," said 22nd J.D.C. District Attorney Warren Montgomery.
But the crime commission says there is one thing wrong with such high stats -- the system was failing to make sufficient opportunities for first-time, non-violent offenders through its diversion program.
"It's about being smart about how you use your resources," said Metropolitan Crime Commission Executive Director Rafael Goyeneche, "New leadership with the sheriff, with the DA, and now a more informed public, increases the likelihood of some of those policies shifting."
Parish leaders say many of those shifts are already in place and paying off.
The DA's Office has increased its staffing in the case screening division, which includes employees from the sheriff's office and local police agencies. The use of specialty courts, like drug and mental health courts, are increasing and the kinds of specialty courts are expanding. The DA's Office is now operating with computers, instead of paper, taking operations "out of the horse and buggy era," according to Montgomery.
Montgomery says his office has also reduced the up-front cost to enter the diversion or replaced it with more community service to help more people qualify. He says the program, aimed at giving first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to learn from their mistakes through a year-long, specifically tailored program, has also improved its graduation rate by 25 percent.
Montgomery also says his office will soon be deploying video technology to hold 72-hour preliminary hearings with suspects while they remain in the jail. He's also starting an early intervention program where one of his assistant district attorneys will be present at those hearings to make immediate decisions on whether a defendant should continue with prosecution through a specialty court, be released to a treatment center for addiction or mental illness, or be put into the diversion program.
See the Metropolitan Crime Commission's full report here:
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