Legislation reflects challenges sheriffs face statewide, Stassi says

Staff Report

Crucial issues from the recently completed 2021 Louisiana Legislative Session will likely play a key role in discussion when Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi officially becomes Louisiana Sheriff’s Association president July 1.

Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi officially becomes Louisiana Sheriff’s Association president July 1.

The bills reflect a pivotal time in law enforcement, said Stassi, who is the only Iberville Parish sheriff to serve as LSA president. Bobby Griffon served as head of the LSA in the 1960s.

Legislation that decriminalized marijuana, and a bill to allow for the carrying of a concealed weapon by an unlicensed gun owner – which Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed last week – both drew immense discussion among sheriffs statewide.

House Bill 653 by state Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, reduced the penalty to $100 for marijuana possession up to 14 grams.

“It was coming, and we knew it was going to happen,” Stassi said. “We’re on a slippery slope because we’ve told our youth that they should say no to drug, and now we’re becoming a lot more lenient on marijuana.”

Many sheriffs across the state argued that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drug use.

Stassi agreed with that notion, but it’s a far more complex issue that than. He and other sheriffs also acknowledged the benefit of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

“If it has any value for medical, I’m for that … I don’t want to see anybody suffer,” he said.

Stassi was more adamant about the danger of the concealed weapon legislation, which Edwards vetoed shortly after the sheriff made his comments.

Legislation by state Sen. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, would have allowed anyone 21 and older to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. The current law allows concealed carry with a permit and training.

The fight over the bill may not be over yet. Republican lawmakers are considering a veto-override session on that bill and others that Edwards nixed during the session that ended June 10.

The law would have created a dangerous precedent, Stassi said.

“They passed a law in Texas that anyone can carry a concealed weapon, which is dangerous because we don’t know the mental capability, the status of the gun owner and it requires no training,” he said. “I think that law could only go so far.

“I think other states will follow suit, and there are even some sheriffs in our association who thought it was good legislation,” Stassi said.

While sheriffs statewide differed on both bills, the association remains strongly united, he said.

All face difference challenges, Stassi said.

“We have to work on our relationships with our own communities and make sure as sheriffs we all work together and work for the betterment of all sheriffs,” he said. “Even though we’re all different, we must speak with one voice, and that’s always made us powerful at the legislature.”

The sheriffs maintain a strong union despite the difference in operation from parish to parish statewide.

“Everything so different,” he said. “Some sheriffs make money by housing guilty prisoners with per diem. Some like myself make money have industry and inventory tax, other sheriffs collect from sales tax.

“The association operates really well .. they can take all sheriffs from different walks of life and education levels, and not herd us all like cats into one room,” Stassi said. “The good thing is that we all work on a united front on stay focus on what’s important for all of us and in doing that we take care of our own people.”

The united front is critical at a time when the crime rate continues to spike nationwide, while law enforcement faces increased scrutiny.

“We are at a crossroads … violent crime on the rise, deputies are making life and death split-second decisions that will be tested by the media and tested by lawyers for years to come,” Stassi said. “It’s really a trying time in law enforcement and we need to make sure we stay aggressive on taking care on communities. We can’t sit back ... we must stay proactive.

“In so many places so many people worried about losing pension, retirement funds instead of being proactive,” he said. “Crime is on the rise and that’s not going to get any better. Between criminals and good people, we have to stand strong.”