EDGARD, La. — A steep drop in traffic citations in a south Louisiana parish could lead to cuts at a public defenders office that gets most of its funding from the tickets.

St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre said he suspended a traffic enforcement program that uses off-duty officers following the deadly shootings of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas in mid-July.

The New Orleans Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/2c1QbeY) that Tregre denies any political motivations for suspending the Local Agency Compensation Enforcement program, or LACE.

“It’s just not safe up there,” Tregre said. “You risk a lot. You’re all by yourself. You could be pulling over, who knows, the guy from Dallas. There’s no second chance up there.”

Public Defender Richard Stricks said 90 percent of his office’s budget comes from fines and fees generated by citations. Stricks said the drop in ticket revenue may prevent him from maintaining his office’s current staffing levels. It already has prompted him to suspend the renewal of contracts with outside attorneys.

District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut said she signed a new LACE agreement with Tregre last year in part to help the public defenders office and “maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system.”

“I was not extended any professional courtesy in informing me there was going to be any kind of disruption in the program,” Dinvaut said.

Figures provided by the parish’s clerk of court, Eliana DeFrancesch, showed her office handled an average of just over 1,900 monthly traffic citations from March through June. That figure dropped to 1,562 citations in July, when the sheriff suspended the program in the middle of the month, and dipped to 1,017 citations in August.

Stricks warned of his office’s unexpected revenue losses in a letter last month to parish judges.

“This may be the beginning of a very lean period for us,” he wrote.


Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com