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Monday, July 17, 2017

TO SERVE AND PROTECT

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Sheriff’s deputies put their lives on the line daily. Is it worth the risk?

There Darin Marshall sat.

In an unfamiliar house. In an unfamiliar area.

People – strangers – were constantly coming and going. None of them looked particularly friendly.

A corporal working undercover with the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Department, Marshall had willingly put himself in a dangerous situation. He was waiting to buy drugs from an alleged dealer.

Marshall was on “high alert.”

Adding to the tension was the man standing in a corner – arms folded – staring a bullet hole through Marshall.

“I recognized him immediately, and I assumed he (recognized me) because of his actions,” Marshall remembered.

Marshall “recognized” the man as an inmate from when Marshall worked at the Caddo Parish jail.

“I felt very, very, very uncomfortable, because he was staring at me, and I was like, ‘He remembers me now.’” The man finally spoke. Marshall didn’t understand him, but took the opportunity as an excuse to get up and walk toward the door.

“I was looking for an escape route.” As Marshall got closer, the man repeated himself. This time, Marshall heard him loud and clear.

“Hey, didn’t you used to play football?” Marshall breathed a not-so-obvious sigh of relief. His cover was still intact.

“I kept my cool. The alleged drug dealer came in. We negotiated the deal, and I bought the drugs and I left the scene.”

For a few minutes, Marshall – married with four children and two grandchildren – wondered if he would ever see his family again.

“I was well outnumbered,” Marshall, now a lieutenant, remembered. “It could have really went bad. They could have jumped me, took me hostage, anything like that. … Things can happen in a matter of seconds. It doesn’t take long for someone to do harm to someone.”

Big danger = Little pay

Starting pay for a deputy with the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Department is $34,650. Based on a 40-hour workweek, that’s $16.65 an hour. According to a 2016 study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that means a Caddo deputy who puts his/her life in danger every day makes, on average, less than a massage therapist ($19.17), the person who reads your utility meter ($18.72), and the person who repairs your watch ($17.66).

“People in law enforcement these days, and the expectations and the scrutiny that they’re under, coupled with the danger they face, are underpaid, undercompensated and often times underappreciated,” said Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator.

“Most people would shy away from looking for trouble, and that’s what we get paid to do. We get paid to look for trouble. No one else really wants to do that unless you’re a bad guy; then you want to look for trouble.”

Caddo deputies aren’t alone in making relatively low pay compared to the amount of risk they face. Starting pay for a Bossier Parish sheriff’s deputy (without a degree) is $36,000. A Shreveport police officer begins making $33,000. A Bossier City police officer’s starting salary is $32,796 (plus incentives).

“I’m challenged every day with trying to maintain a salary that we can compete with other law enforcement agencies, and try to fairly compensate our folks, and at the same time we give a two-percent-a-year raise. The (Caddo Parish) Commission and many other agencies give much more than that.”

Chase and Capture

It was sometime after 10 o’clock on a typically hot, muggy Caddo Parish summer night. After working his eight-hour shift, Deputy Jeremy Prudhome was driving home – anxious to see his wife and tuck their two girls into bed.

“It kinds of helps them sleep to know Dad is home safe.”

But Deputy Prudhome chose not to play it “safe.” Despite being off-duty, he voluntarily responded to a call of shots being fired from a car at another driver.

“That’s just what we do,” Deputy Prudhome said of his choice. “If we’re close and we’re able to help out, we just do what we have to do.”

It wasn’t long before Deputy Prudhome saw the suspected car pull into a gas station. Deputy Prudhome followed, angling the front of his car within inches of the other car’s driver’s side door.

"Most people would shy away from looking for trouble, and that’s what we get paid to do. We get paid to look for trouble. No one else really wants to do that unless you’re a bad guy; then you want to look for trouble.”

– Sheriff Steve Prator

The deputy drew his gun and got out. “Get on the ground!” he yelled. “Let me see your hands! Let me see your hands!” By the time help arrived, Deputy Prudhome had both the driver and passenger on the ground and in handcuffs. A search of the car found a handgun on the passenger’s side.

“I was trying to take the driver into custody before I could get to the passenger, and the passenger is the one who had the gun," Deputy Prudhome said.

“That could have went really bad, really fast. If I pulled up and they saw me coming, they could have opened fire before I ever had a chance to stop my car.”

Running Toward Danger

“We rush to scenes where bad stuff is happening,” Sheriff Prator said. “We are all trained that, instead of setting up perimeters and calling SWAT teams when there is an active shooter, we rush to the noise and expect that you’re going to get shot. But our mission is to take out the shooters before he takes out anybody else. You put yourself in extreme harm’s way to kill or disable somebody that is killing other folks.”

Lt. Marshall and Deputy Prudhome agree they – and their colleagues – are underpaid for the risks they take.

Like many in law enforcement, Marshall (rental property manager) and Prudhome (installs window treatments) have side jobs to make extra money. However, they don’t dwell on the risk vs. reward ratio – at least while they’re at work.

“When you’re at home and you’re not in the middle of it and a bill comes around and you have to pick which bill I’m going to pay this month, it kind of crosses your mind then,” Deputy Prudhome said. “But as far as when you’re doing the job, I never think twice about it.”

Looking to the Future

Sheriff Prator, who recently began his 18th year leading the department, said that, without new revenue, it isn’t realistic to think salaries will significantly increase anytime soon.

“No one wants to pay any more taxes, and I don’t want to go and ask for more taxes, that’s just not my nature. We try to do things smarter – try to come up with new ways to enhance the revenues we get, new ways to serve with less money.”

So how much should a Caddo Parish sheriff’s deputy – or any law enforcement officer – make?

“I don’t know what would be fair and just compensation for somebody who dayin and day-out is prepared to risk their lives and give their lives for someone else. I don’t think there is a figure, but I would like to pay a figure enough to where they know beyond a shadow of a doubt they are appreciated by the public they serve.”

Lt. Marshall solemnly answers that question with a question.

“How do you put money on someone’s life?” Lt. Marshall asks. “How do you put a dollar bill on that?” “I can’t put a number on life.”

– by Tony Taglavore

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