Sorrento mayor tells council that APSO has already begun police patrols

POSTED: Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 3:30pm

UPDATED: Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 3:34pm

Sorrento Assistant Police Chief Ricky Smith presented a single insurance premium quote for liability coverage of the police department at a Special Meeting on Wednesday.

On November 19, Sorrento PD’s current coverage provider will terminate the liability policy for the patrol officers and their vehicles. Smith, who claimed to have sought quotes from six or seven providers at the latest regular meeting, informed the council that he had received a single quote in the amount of $67,692 for one year.

Risk Management currently provides coverage for the police department and the town for a little over $32,000 annually. According to Mayor Mike Lambert, over $24,000 of that total goes toward insurance for the police department.

“If it is the council’s desire, I suggest we take the one quote we have under advisement,” asserted Lambert, “and if others are received, we can consider those as well. Does the council want to consider any quotes after tonight?” he asked.

He went on to suggest that a committee be impanelled that consists of himself, the town attorney and accountant, Ricky Smith, and two council members, to pursue that course of action. Ricky Smith is filling in for Police Chief Earl Theriot, who is convalescing after surgery.

“If it’s (the insurance quote) around $70,000, that won’t hurt us,” opined Councilman Randy Anny. He added that the increased expenditure would offset the monies that Chief Theriot’s department is alleged to have returned to the town in the past in order to maintain Sorrento’s solvency. “The money is there…and we’re going to work together to figure this thing out.”

Anny then moved that the Mayor’s suggestion be approved by the council. His motion was adopted and he and Councilman Marvin Martin were designated to represent the council.

Smith went on to say that two insurance companies denied coverage without providing quotes, but he anticipates receiving a few others in the next two days. Smith named First Team Insurance as one of the companies from which he expects to receive a quote, and he believes that it will be approximately $50,000. Smith added that the denials were from insurers who insisted on writing a policy for the entire municipality.

The council was also asked to grant Mayor Lambert the authority to commence contract negotiations with Ascension Sheriff Jeff Wiley in case replacement insurance is not forthcoming.

“I received a letter from Sheriff Wiley just before the meeting and he has submitted a proposal for us to look at,” Lambert explained. “The sheriff has offered a short term solution if we have not acquired insurance by the November 19 deadline. APSO will provide policing for Sorrento from that date through the end of the year so long as it is reimbursed for actual costs. Anything beyond 2013 is contingent upon a negotiated contract being in place.”

Lambert detailed APSO’s anticipated costs for provision of a full time patrolman at $33/hour and one detective assigned to Sorrento at $40/hour. Combined with ancillary costs such as administrative and fuel the estimated figure is $37,521.60 through the end of 2013.

“As a matter of fact, APSO has been conducting patrols in Sorrento since last Friday on its own dime. That has been necessitated by the fact that Sorrento PD is down to a single officer if I’m not mistaken,” Lambert said as he deferred to Ricky Smith.

Sorrento resident Tim Hebert expressed his opposition to APSO policing Sorrento in no uncertain terms.

“You’ve got a quote right there for $67,000. Put pencil to paper…That’s not cost effective,” he questioned the wisdom in spending any moneys to reimburse APSO which could go toward satisfaction of an insurance premium increase. “The people want it to stay as it is. The people don’t want Jeff Wiley.”

Another citizen suggested a referendum be held to allow Sorrento’s voters to decide the issue.

Smith confirmed Lambert’s assessment of the policing situation in Sorrento. According to Smith, one police officer has already resigned, another is taking some time to consider resigning, and another is currently on medical leave. The Assistant Chief conceded that, even if insurance is obtained, additional officers will have to be hired if Sorrento PD is to remain an effective force.

Smith presented a letter he claimed to have sent to Risk Management, which details a plan of action “to implement a well-rounded and professional police department” in the future. The letter was drafted in the vain attempt at persuading Risk Management to reconsider its decision. The letter went on:

“We have chosen to reevaluate some of our current policies and procedures. Given the current dilemma regarding insurance underwriting requirements, we will be effectively shutting down the department after the 19th of November deadline until the next council meeting to revamp our policies and procedures, code of ethics, and inventory our equipment. I would like to have this accomplished before we start a new hiring board, inclusive of your underwriting requirements, to hire police officers that will take on the responsibility of the day to day law enforcement functions of the town of Sorrento.

“With your recommendations we will be immediately implementing an improved policies and procedures manual, code of ethics, restructuring of internal investigations procedure, and inventory our departmental equipment before we start our new hiring board with the assistance of the town council. The new hiring board will be evaluating all aspects of a potential hires qualifications, character, and background…”

Four members of the council had no information about the letter, or its contents, prior to Wednesday’s meeting. Councilman Randy Anny immediately exited the premises at the meeting’s conclusion and was not asked for comment.

“It appears that no matter what happens with the insurance, there is going to be a significant gap in police coverage by Sorrento PD,” Councilman Donald Schexnaydre concluded after considering Smith’s plan of action. “I think the plan of action could be beneficial, but how long will it take to implement? How long will it take to replace the officers who are no longer with Sorrento PD with new hires? What happens in the interim?”

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