La. police get federal grant; Funds to keep more officers on the streets

By David Persica
West Bank Bureau
Copyright 2006 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company

The Gretna Police Department has been awarded a $254,000 federal grant, Police Chief Arthur Lawson said.

The Criminal Justice Infrastructure Recovery grant was awarded three weeks ago by the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance through the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, Lawson said. The bureau is an arm of the U.S. Justice Department.

The majority of the money, $148,240, will be used to pay police overtime to keep more officers on the street, and to bulk up the force's intelligence on drug violators and violent criminals, Lawson said.

About $37,972 will be used to hire two part-time officers to work in the clerk's office at Gretna City Court. Lawson said the number of cases going to city court has increased 45 percent over last year because of the increased population on the West Bank since Hurricane Katrina.

"Citations have increased drastically," he said.

Parking violations, traffic accidents and arrests for misdemeanors handled by city court have gone up with the increased population, Lawson said. He added that there also was a backlog of cases because of the time that city court was closed since the storm.

"We had some months when the courts weren't in operation," he said.

The remainder of the money, $68,200, will be used to set up a police emergency communications center for hurricanes and other emergencies.

Lawson said the communications equipment at police headquarters at 200 Fifth St. is on the ground floor in a windowless room. That means the equipment could be knocked out in a flood.

"We would lose communications and our people would be trapped," he said.

Lawson said he worked out an agreement with Second Parish Court Judges Stephen Grefer and Roy Cascio and Jefferson Parish emergency preparedness chief Deano Bonano to let the police department set up a second communications center on the third floor of the recently opened court building on Huey P. Long Avenue near the river.

During disasters, "we would switch our communications and 911 calls from the police complex to that facility," Lawson said.

The department will be able to have its emergency operations center there for two years, since court officials don't foresee needing to use the third floor during that time.

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