SORRENTO, LA (WAFB) - There are nearly 1,500 residents in Sorrento. In the police department, you will find just one: 71-year-old Fern Barnett the freshly sworn in Police Chief. She is also the department's only employee currently.
"I think the people in town needed to have a choice of whether they want to do away with the police department. If nobody ran, then they didn't have a choice," said Barnett.
Barnett was the only candidate remaining for the job left vacant when ex-Sorrento Chief Earl Theriot quit amid a sexual assault investigation. With no law enforcement background, the great-grandmother has inherited a broken office.
A string of legal troubles and alleged scandals left the department uninsured and without funding. Now, the future of the department rests with voters who will decide in November on whether to abolish the police department entirely.
"This election will decide the financial liability of this town. The finances are such with the police department that we cannot afford one," said Sorrento Mayor Mike Lambert.
Barnett says she will take steps to fix all issues, starting with the department's insurance needs. However, she says she will first wait on the voters' decision.
"That's your own decision to make. Just think about it very carefully and think that once the police department is gone, it's awful hard to get it back," said Barnett.
Sorrento's Police Department and the Mayor's Office may be separated by just one door, but they are miles apart on this issue. Lambert believes the town is better off under the protection of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office, which is currently handling the town's policing needs.
"We had so many complaints on our police department. We paid so much money in lawsuits that we can't obtain liability insurance to cover them. This is why we're asking the voters to vote to abolish the police department," said Lambert.
Lambert says the town cannot afford to hire and maintain a quality police force. If voters decide to abolish the department, Barnett said she will consider resigning. Otherwise the police department would go away at the end of Barnett's term which is scheduled to end in 2017.