Sheriff Mark Hebert -- Bad checks are big problem in St. Mary Parish

MORGAN CITY, La. — People issuing worthless checks is a big problem in St. Mary Parish, said St. Mary Parish Sheriff Mark Hebert.

Hebert was the guest speaker at the St. Mary Industrial Group’s monthly meeting Monday.

Most of what the deputies deal with in the warrants division of the sheriff’s office is handling worthless check cases, Hebert said.

“Last year, we were probably the leader in assisting in collections and amounts recovered (on worthless checks). And this year we’re probably about 50/50 with Iberia (Parish). It’s like everybody really stepped up to the plate and really pushed these things hard,” Hebert said. “We know how important it is to collect these funds for our businesses in St. Mary (Parish).”

In 2011, the warrants division collected $162,000 in money owed from worthless checks, he said.

The sheriff’s office also enhanced its water search and rescue operation to a full-time water patrol division about a year ago, Hebert said. “They check a lot of the businesses along the waterways,” he said.

“These guys are actually trained detectives so they can go out there and investigate crimes,” he said of the water patrol. “And they’ve been real successful the last couple of months. They’ve solved some oil and gas thefts out on the waterways. We’ve actually caught a few people in progress doing that. And they’ve actually initiated cases and actually solved cases which led to arrests.”

The St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s office is undergoing accreditation by the Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement and the American Correctional Association and is about halfway through the process, Hebert said. “They say you could do it in three years. It looks like we should be able to do it in about 18 months,” he said.

“They audit you in every aspect of what you do to make sure that you’re doing it to the best of your ability from your finances to your training to education of your employees,” he said. “It’s very strenuous. However, I think the reward is really great for the outcome. We’re cultivating deputies that are educated better. It forces you to really educate everyone from the ground up.”

Hebert touted the work release program he implemented for parish inmates in 2005. The program is designed so that inmates can accumulate money throughout their time in jail and be able to rent an apartment and buy a car, Hebert said. If inmates owe money for things, such as child support, money inmates earn in jail goes toward that, Hebert added.

“He has to pay to be in the program, and he has to pay for the things that require him to work,” he said of inmates, adding that the program generates about $500,000 per year for the sheriff’s department to go back into its budget.

“I’m a firm believer in an inmate paying his way as much as possible in the correctional system,” he said.

In 2011, the 18 inmates who completed the program accumulated $109,000. As of October 2012, 14 inmates have completed the program in 2012 earning $76,000, Hebert said.

The deputies in the sheriff’s office also do volunteer work to help educate the community, especially children, about drug and alcohol abuse and sex offenders, Hebert said.

“I make sure that every division is putting something back out into the community,” he said.

Many people treat the sex offender cards the sheriff’s office mails out as junk mail, but people should put the cards up on their refrigerators or places where children can see who may be walking down the street or who is in the neighborhood, Hebert said.

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