St. Bernard to get new sheriff for first time in 28 years

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wwltv.com

Posted on June 28, 2012 at 10:35 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 28 at 10:41 PM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

CHALMETTE, La. - After nearly three decades, Saint Bernard Parish is gearing up for a new sheriff.

James Pohlmann is replacing former Sheriff Jack Stephens who held that position for 28 years.

Eyewitness News spoke with Pohlmann about the future and has reaction from Saint Bernard citizens about the change.

"Business owners that I know, no one has come to me and said: 'oh my god we're so worried about how things are with crime down here!'; because crime down here, crime down here is non-existent," said Chalmette business owner Sam Catalanotto who credits Saint Bernard Parish's low crime rate to a vigilant Sheriff's Office. He isn't shy about his support for Sheriff-Elect James Pohlmann.

"I do believe that this change is going to be a good thing for our community. I'm not one of the people who believes change is bad," said Catalanotto.

The Saint Bernard Sheriff's Office has seen a lot of change. Last fall, it moved into a new facility on Saint Bernard Highway. Now after 28 years, the Sheriff's Office is welcoming a new leader who is facing a shrinking budget.

"We're down about $2.2 million in sales tax collections alone in the Sheriff's Department and of course our operations cost continue to go up when you talk about the price of insurance, the price of health care, the price of fuel," said Pohlmann who blames the deficit on a smaller post-Katrina resident population.

As a cost-cutting measure, Pohlmann plans to reduce staff at the Sheriff's Office from 314 to 280 people through attrition and retirement.

Another challenge deputies are seeing on the street are drug-related property crimes like burglaries.

"People addicted to drugs they go steal and rob and do whatever they have to do to support a drug habit. We're attacking in on both ends," said Pohlmann who says the Sheriff's Office is also seeing more heroin sales on the street.

Last month, a drug suspect was shot in the in the 6500 block of Chartres Street by a sheriff's deputy after attempting to run over deputies in a car. Chrissy Knoll lives in the Arabi neighborhood not far from where that shooting took place.

"Appalled. I can't believe that happened in my neighborhood," said Knoll.

As a new sheriff gets ready to take over the reins in Saint Bernard Parish, Knoll hopes that curbing crime - even with a reduced budget - remains a top priority.

"I want him to continue in the path of families living here and keeping it very safe for the families," said Knoll.

The change in leadership at the Sheriff's Office also means that Saint Bernard deputies will be wearing beige instead of black uniforms.

Pohlmann will officially become Sheriff on July 1.

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