Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre discusses body cameras, community issues

Michael Tortorich
Donaldsonville Chief
Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre discusses body cameras and community issues Aug. 3 at Donaldsonville City Hall.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre recently sat down for a conversation on his office's implementation of body cameras and other issues affecting the area.

The sheriff was a guest on the Aug. 3 edition of the Making Progress program with Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan.

Webre said implementing a body-camera system gave his office an opportunity to adopt best practices and standards in law enforcement.

"Let's be that professional agency we know we can be," the sheriff said.

He added that he researched the data on body-worn cameras and looked into the best equipment to use for law enforcement.

"To be honest with you, I was listening to young deputies and supervisors who asked, 'When are we going to get this piece of equipment? We think it's viable, and we think it can help us. We're not afraid of the public seeing what we're doing,'" Webre said.

The new system was first introduced in District 1, which covers the west side of the parish. Webre also thanked the the mayor and city council for assisting with paying for the system.

"Now, I'm glad to say, they are parishwide," he added, referring to the implementation in Districts 1 and 2 on the east side of the parish.

Webre said the quality of the video and audio captured by the cameras is "remarkable." The cameras are being used in all patrol and traffic units.

He added that the video captured by the cameras helps reconstruct encounters deputies have while on duty.

"It also lets the citizens know that you have a Sheriff's Office that is not trying to hide anything, or is afraid of anything, or is afraid of new technology," Webre said.

The sheriff pointed out that such technology has been helpful to law enforcement in solving more crimes. As surveillance systems have become more affordable, both commercial and residential sites have been able to capture more footage than previously available.

At another point, he went on to discuss the accreditation process that is underway for the Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff said it is a three-year challenge to adopt best standards and practices. He expects the accreditation process to be complete by March of next year.

"There's not many in the state," Webre said of accredited departments. "We'll be very proud of that accomplishment."

Earlier in the program, the conversation started with a discussion of the current situation regarding the surge in COVID-19.

Both Sullivan and Webre said they have been complying with the statewide mask mandate in their respective organizations.

They also talked about the many locations around the area offering vaccination and testing.

The sheriff briefly shared information on the back-to-school event, which was held Aug. 7 at the Waguespack Center. Local officials also took part in a similar event days before at the Care South clinic in Donaldsonville.

Webre said the Sheriff's Office has been striving to take community outreach "to another level" with the Waguespack Center.

"It's more than just a park where kids can go and play ball. It's a study hall, it's a library, and there's a place for games," Webre said.

He expressed pride in the vision his department had in developing the center.

"We wanted to do something sustainable, something continuous," Webre added.

Sullivan asked about the early childhood learning program, which is a cooperative endeavor agreement with Ascension Parish government. It will bring together several local entities.

Webre said the Sheriff's Office bid on the former West Ascension Elementary School campus years ago, and bought it from the Ascension Parish School Board.

Named in memory of former Sheriff Hickley Waguespack, the "Wag Center," as it is sometimes called, is located at 1201 Maginnis Street on the former school campus.

He added that the Ascension Parish Library and City of Donaldsonville are also involved with the early childhood learning program.

"Its just the beginning," Webre said of the program. "I think we'll reap benefits from this for years and years down the line."

Ascension Parish Chief Administrative Officer John Diez touted the importance of the program, especially for at-risk youth. During the Donaldsonville stop on the Ascension Listens tour, Diez cited the The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40, which identified the short- and long-term effects of a high-quality preschool education program for children living in poverty.

The sheriff also reminisced about his career in law enforcement during the program. He joined the military two days out of high school. After serving, former Sheriff Harold Tridico hired him in 1985. He's been with APSO ever since.

The 58-year-old sheriff rose through the ranks slowly over his nearly 37-year career. Webre previously worked as a patrol sergeant, lieutenant over warrants and courts, and was assigned to the jail as warden for 16 years.

He went to the FBI National Academy, and became chief of criminal operations for the westbank. Later, he served as the chief of criminal operations parishwide, and eventually took over as chief deputy after Tony Bacala retired from the department. Bacala went on to serve as a state representative for District 59 in the Prairieville area.

Following the retirement of Sheriff Jeff Wiley, Webre served as interim sheriff prior to his election.

In the closing moments of the program, he asked the mayor and two staff members attendance to join in a prayer.

The sheriff would often credit his staff during the discussion. He concluded by saying he hopes to develop new leaders to serve the parish.

"As a citizen, you want to leave your community a little bit better than you found it," Webre said.