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More Finger-Pointing Over Bossier Sheriff Youth Programs Funding

Bossier Sheriff’s Office Photo by Lt. Bill Davis

Whose fault is it the Bossier Sheriff’s Office does not have federal funding for its youth programs?  Well, it depends on who you ask.

In a written statement to KEEL News, the federal Office of Justice Programs says it is the Louisiana Commission of Law Enforcement’s decision on the matter.  The LCLE says it was the Sheriff’s decision to not accept the funding.  And the Sheriff blames the federal government for being irrational.

We know what the Feds have to say, we know what the Sheriff has to say.  So what does the Commission have to say?

“We never revoked any money,” stated Louisiana Commission of Law Enforcement Executive Director Joey Watson.  ”The Sheriff withdrew his offer.

“We had funded that program for 10 years.  Office of Justice Programs called those issues to our attention.  It all began with just their suggesting to us that we not fund a boot camp program, period.”

In fact, according to Watson, the audit began because of the program being operated as a boot camp.

“Their statement was that boot camps are ineffective for the purpose the money was intended.”

Watson explained that according to the federal government, the programs did not serve the ultimate purpose of the grants because of their own determination that boot camps do not typically work with at-risk youths.  The roughly 14-month long audit process focused on the camp curriculum itself until the Commission tried looking into other ways to get federal funding for the programs.

That’s about when religion became an issue.

“We tried to divert that to a different type of program, a little bit different of a program, diversion program if you will, and during that process the issue of wording in the oath, the issue of prayer during the program itself came up.”

Those concerns from the federal government were brought up to Sheriff Whittington.

“We had offered alternatives such as have your prayer 15 minutes before the program starts, in a separate room,” recounted Watson.  ”The Sheriff just took a stand on that and decided he shouldn’t be told he can’t have a prayer.”

We then asked the executive director about the statement from the Office of Justice Programs.

“Technically, it’s correct.  They send us a set of rules and say these are the rules you must follow.  And then we decide who we’re going to fund and how we’re going to do it and where the money goes within the state.  We decide the funding.  Our determination to come up to an agreement with the Sheriff of Bossier was made with that in mind.”

But he says it was the Sheriff’s decision to not work with the Commission and the Office of Justice Programs on coming up with a compromise.

To explain the logic of the rule, “In general, it’s my understanding when courts adjudicate young people in this country, they may not all be Christian, they may not be all of one particular religion.  Federal money being used to support those programs, don’t let you pick and choose which programs you are going to support.”

And with the stance the Commission and the Office of Justice Programs has taken, Watson wants to clarify that this is not meant to be an attack on religion.

“On a personal level, no one here, and I talked to all the ladies at the Office of Justice Programs and they all agree that no one is against God here.  But, the federal laws make it clear about protecting the rights of those who have different views to be a part of the programs that are federally funded.

“And I know that they are not denying people of other religions or people of other whatever.  The Sheriff has said over and over again that he is not going to deny anyone participation if they want to participate if they are of some faith other than Christian.  I understand that.  I didn’t make the rules, we pass them along.”

A rally has been organized for this afternoon to protest the decision.

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