Nelson grew visibly angry as he told Police Chief Paula Smith he was dissatisfied with her leadership of the department.
“I took a lot of heat for you,” he said. “Now it’s time for you to do your job. Start taking an interest in it or look for another job.”
The exchange began when, on a point of personal privilege, Nelson said he felt compelled to correct misconceptions he said were being spread by a former city policeman – who remained unnamed but by the clues the mayor dropped is probably former Assistant Chief Nary Smith (no relation to the chief).
“It’s just sour grapes,” Nelson said. “First, the city is not paying the state police $40 an hour. It is costing the city zero for their assistance.”
Another rumor, he said, is that the crackdown was precipitated by the theft of some bicycles from Nelson’s daughter’s home.
“That’s false. She got on the street and in a couple of hours, she solved that case herself.”
Chief Smith spoke out from the audience saying she was disappointed she had not been consulted before the troopers were called in.
Nelson heatedly responded that he had asked her on several occasions to put a stop to loitering in various neighborhoods, a source of numerous complaints and in some instances apparently out-and-out casing of residences to be burglarized.
“You said it was infringing on their First Amendment rights,” Nelson said.
He said that since the troopers have made their presence felt in the city, both loitering and thefts have significantly diminished.
“I am prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our city safe,” he said.
“The sheriff does a great job but he can’t do it all.”
“You’ve got to step it up,” he told Smith. “The police department is no better than its leadership.”
Troopers from Louisiana State Police Troop I are set to continue patrolling through February as a result of a request Nelson made to Troop I commander Becket Breaux after receiving too many complaints about burglaries and thefts.
One of the first acts of the State Police in helping SMPD was to gather up some twenty-three people with outstanding arrest warrants from various jurisdictions, with the help of SMPD and the Lafayette City Marshal’s Office in a two-day operation Jan. 11 and 12.
Heretofore, Nelson has been guardedly critical of Smith’s handling of the department. Unlike many in similarly sized cities in Louisiana, the police chief here is not an elected official. The chief serves at the pleasure of the City Council but has considerable Civil Service protection.
Nelson placed veteran lawman Todd D’Albor in an administrative position to buffer complaints of SMPD’s ineptness only to lose him to the Jennings police chief job in 2010.
Complaints about law enforcement was a top issue in the election that propelled Nelson into office in 2006.