LIVINGSTON – A life in law enforcement, by nature, brings its share of challenges but the summer of 2016 brought more than normal for the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies helped their East Baton Rouge Parish counterparts during the protests following the Alton Sterling shooting and shared in the grief following the shooting of two Baton Rouge police officers and an EBR deputy – along with three others who were wounded – eight days after the protests. But the toughest battle came four weeks later.
The Great Flood of 2016 tested the Livingston Parish sheriff and his deputies like no other event before. Ard spoke about the hardships during a speech during the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce’s “State of the Parish” at Forrest Grove Plantation Aug. 8, just three days before the one-year anniversary of the fourth-worst natural disaster in American history.
“Just as we thought we’d get a big break, the flood hit,” said Ard, a 25-plus-year veteran of the LPSO who took office as sheriff in 2012.
Seventy-nine deputies were affected by the flood. Many lost their homes and all their belongings in the process.
“Some of the officials and police chiefs never stopped,” Ard said. “They did all they could to take care of their families and just kept going.”
The flood brought myriad of obstacles to deputies and other officials, including perhaps the worst imaginable dilemma.
Floodwaters seeped into the 911 center, which forced a hasty – yet successful – move to the Emergency Operations Center in the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
The obstacles did not stop there.
“After moving it, we got a call saying we needed to move 700 inmates from the Livingston Parish Detention Center,” Ard said. “One of the busses broke down, which brought difficulties on the interstate.”
In one of the few saving graces throughout the weekend, the bus left the parish just in time to beat the shutdown of all the bridges and roadways, including Interstate 12 and U.S. 190.
Ard’s biggest source of stress, however, stemmed from the concerns over his deputies.
“I feared seeing what they were going through without their families,” he said. “It was a worry not only for me, but for others, because we knew what was coming.”
Ard knew looters would inevitably find their way to the parish amid the shuttered stores in a largely evacuated area.
The fears ebbed when he got a little help from his friends.
“I reached out to the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, which came to our aid,” Ard said. “That was something I was very proud of, but it was a very tiresome process for them.”
Efforts to stop looters have paled in comparison to the fight against contractor fraud, which has become one of the biggest criminal elements for Livingston Parish in the post-flood era.
“We have a lot of good contractors –- a ton of them, in fact, -- but there are a lot of people who take advantage of others,” Ard said. “We once averaged three or four cases a year, but now it’s three or four cases a day.”
Burglary and theft cases have also increased in the wake of the flood, but not due to a lack of patrolling.
“It’s because of all the vacant homes,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can, but fortunately we haven’t seen an increase in violent crimes – this is still Livingston Parish and we’re still strong.”
The total communications to 911 have also spiked since the flood. The total was 66,675 on the day before the flood last year, but they have taken 79,897 since Jan. 1.
The LPSO is dealing with the loss of 39 vehicles in the flood.
“We got a little reimbursement from FEMA, but I won’t got there,” Ard said.
The LPSO also lost $200,000 worth of ammunition and $300,000 in regular equipment during the flood, he said.
Ard hopes to get the Livingston Parish Detention Center back into full operation in the near future, a move which could help the bottom line for his office, which has taken a financial hit since the flood.
“We’ve made a little money off our inmates – merely operations money – which totaled $3,600 per day off inmates, but if you don’t have the inmates, you can’t get the money.”
In light of the hardships, Ard sees a bright future for Livingston Parish.
“We have a lot to be thankful for,” he said. “We’re seeing subdivisions rebuild, which is something I wanted to see, plus businesses are rebuilding and businesses are coming back.
“It brings more calls, but I’m OK with that because that’s part of our job,” Ard said. “We continue to be a safe parish, we keep violent criminals away from us and we do all we can to maintain our biggest goal: The safety of everyone in our parish.”