By JANET McCONNAUGHEY
NEW ORLEANS – The Rev. Kevin Billiot had never done any police work until April, when he was appointed chief of the department in little Montgomery, near the Kisatchie National Forest in central Louisiana. He found himself dealing with numerous complaints that his two full-time and three part-time officers had been rude to or even mistreated people.
He applied to the Rural Law Enforcement Technology Institute expecting pointers about the most reliable video cameras to mount on squad cars or to have his officers wear so he could check out the complaints. He also hoped that the conference, put on by a division of The Center for Rural Development in Somerset, Ky., would help him find grants to pay for the cameras.
He left with offers for free cameras – not to mention squad cars, laptop computers, stun guns, bulletproof vests and more.
“Other chiefs who attended the conference with me, they literally were lined up offering to donate all types of other equipment that we need in our department,” he said of the Dec. 4-8 conference in Annapolis, Md. Tax revenues have been falling in the town of 730 for some time.
“Any small town, their finances aren’t in good shape right now,” said Mayor Vera “Susie” Waters, who gets $265 a month as mayor and works full-time as office manager for two pharmacies. “Any kind of equipment we purchase, we rely strictly on grants. When we can get a donation of equipment it’s just a wonderful thing.”
Police officers make $7.50 an hour. Like Billiot, who came to the Grant Parish town as pastor of Northside Baptist Church and is paid $20,000 a year as police chief, all have another full-time job.
Billiot has to ask the Town Council to cover every expense, like the tires he recently bought for a squad car.
“When I arrived here as police chief in April, we didn’t have uniforms. We didn’t even have badges,” Billiot said. “We had two badges we shared among ourselves” and wore polo shirts with embroidered badges, he said.
He said he bought uniforms but hadn’t been able to get duty jackets for work in cold, wet weather. “Our guys are out there wearing $14 windbreakers right now,” Billiot said. He said several departments offered to look for jackets.
The institute itself had been testing officer-worn cameras and donated two, which arrived Wednesday and were being activated for use during the Christmas weekend.
Capt. Rick Grassi of the Tomball, Texas, Police Department offered two unused in-car video systems.
A central Louisiana institute that didn’t want to be identified donated bulletproof vests – the first of the donations to arrive, Billiot said. Cmdr. Dan Brown of the Gila River, Ariz., Police Department offered three used patrol cars.
And when the police chief in Robeline, a village of 170 in nearby Natchitoches Parish, asked about his windfalls, Billiot said he was able to arrange for that department to get two used police cars. He said Chief Mike Marbut will join his trip to get the cars.
“He has two police vehicles that he says are literally going to pieces,” Billiot said.
The National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center’s Small, Rural, Tribal and Border Regional Center holds the conference so people from small and rural departments around the country can get together and share technology tips, said Dave Mather, executive director of the regional center.
The U.S. Department of Justice is among sponsors for the conference, which is free.
Billiot said he learned about it from an email forwarded to all members of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police.
Each applicant had to send in a computer presentation about a problem they are facing or have solved. His was about the complaints and the need for video to check on them. Billiot said he was the only rookie among the 31 participants from 23 states.
Billiot’s department also will get a free website from the conference organizers, saving the agency thousands of dollars, he said.
Billiot, who graduated from the Alexandria Regional Police Academy after his appointment, said he also learned about free training he and his officers can get from the FBI and other agencies. The conference brought “the wealth of knowledge and contacts and networking and information that most of us had not known was out there and available to us,” he said.[flickrset id=”72157628291293725″ thumbnail=”square” photos=”” overlay=”true” size=”thumbnail”]