Monday, January 21, 2019

Stewart defends record, takes issue with Mayor’s comments

Stewart defends record, takes issue with Mayor’s comments
Posted: Jan 10, 2019
Categories: Front Page, Headlines
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There are two sides to every story, and former Hammond Police Chief James Stewart took issue this week with Mayor Pete Panepinto’s characterization of Stewart’s work with Hammond Police.

Stewart, who was dismissed from the city on Friday, said Panepinto was “not being as forthcoming as he should be” in describing the former chief’s two and a half years of service with the City of Hammond, and he said the mayor’s comments in an interview with ActionNews17 on Monday were somewhat skewed.



Stewart said he “did everything” the Mayor asked him to do and that he was “never remiss” of his duties as chief. Stewart always led by example. Stewart said he enjoyed interacting with the officers and supervisors, and he described his approach as being very proactive with all the units of the police department. Stewart said he responded to calls for service and arrived on scenes to offer assistance to the officers. Recently, Stewart was present during an early morning drug raid involving several local and federal agencies. Stewart was also present throughout the day helping with traffic control and other matters related to the overturned semi-tractor truck on the I-12. The former chief said he was also available for major events in the city, including the Downtown Car Show, Hammond Air Show, Hot August Night, Krewe of Omega, and Blues and BBQ.

"A police chief has myriad responsibilities beyond riding around the City and being seen,” Stewart said.

He said he took direction from City Hall and “hit those mandates,” as given by Panepinto. A strong proponent of community policing, Stewart says he was directed to manage the department in ways that contradict the core theory of community policing and police management. Stewart said the Mayor would undermine his authority and decisions when it came to basic management of the department. Stewart said he felt his 38 years of local and federal law enforcement experience would be an asset the Mayor would embrace and feel confident with those decisions. Instead, Stewart said the mayor wanted to approve all management decisions.

"Managing a police department is far different than any other city resource, given the changing dynamics of crime, responsiveness to the community, assisting other agencies, and other enforcement action performed by the department that the community does not always see. Beyond police operations, there is the administrative burden of managing the police department. This type of management does not happen overnight,” Stewart said.

The former chief said he does own property in Slidell, but he also maintained an apartment in Hammond, where he and his wife stayed during the week. Lately though, Stewart was commuting from Slidell because he and his wife were awarded temporary custody of an infant relative by the State of La. Stewart discussed this with the Mayor and assured him this added responsibility would not encroach, or have a negative impact upon his duties as the police chief. He said that he never missed a weather-related emergency, nor did he miss City Council meetings, Civil Service meetings, or Home Owners Assoc. meetings when called upon. Stewart felt he was very proactive with the community.

Stewart said he was caught off-guard when he was told by Panepinto Thursday that the mayor planned to release him at the end of the month. The next morning, he emailed the mayor and asked if he could be dismissed effective that day, as he did not want the taxpayers to foot the bill for a lame duck police chief lingering until the end of the month.

Stewart said that he has enjoyed his time in Hammond and that he felt like the department made great strides during his brief tenure. He really enjoyed the job and thanked the community for their friendship and hospitality.
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