OPELOUSAS — When Jimmy Darbonne ends his weekly St. Landry Crime Stoppers radio and television updates with a message in French, it adds a unique aspect to a parishwide program still in its infancy.
“Using the French is what sets St. Landry Parish apart from the other 16 parishes in the state that have a Crime Stoppers program. St. Landry is the only parish so far that includes speaking in French as part of its program,” said program coordinator Darbonne, who has spoken French all his life.
Using French is also an attempt to make those who might feel excluded in stopping crime become more active participants, he said.
“This area is largely populated with French-speaking citizens and by using the French along with the English, it’s making these people feel they are a part of the parish.
“It was something (St. Landry Sheriff Bobby Guidroz) felt was necessary when we started Crime Stoppers in 2007, since such a large part of our population is still French-speaking,” Darbonne said.
In addition to attracting bi-lingual listeners, Darbonne said there is another significant reason.
Darbonne and Gerald Roberts, president of the St. Landry Crime Stoppers Board, said that elderly residents, many of whom are lifetime French speakers, are sometimes reluctant to report crimes.
“Crime is also affecting the older generation. When we started Crime Stoppers two years ago, they were of the mindset that if they spoke up, it maybe could lead to crimes of retribution against them,” said Roberts.
Darbonne said many of the parish’s older residents are afraid to venture outside their homes, because they might witness a crime outside in addition to becoming victims.
While not everyone understands what Darbonne is saying when he addresses his audiences in French, he says the message is effective.
“People will come up to me in a store or somewhere and say they might not know what we’re talking about when we use French, but they say they like it and don’t stop doing it,” Darbonne said.
In the 26 months that Crime Stoppers has been active, Darbonne said the effort has led to 19 arrests, the disposition of 39 other criminal cases and $128,650 in recovered stolen property.
He said $6,300 in reward money has been released by the Crime Stoppers board to individuals whose tips have led to arrests.
Guidroz said he decided to develop a Crime Stoppers program in St. Landry.
“My phone rang late one night and there was a woman, the victim of a break-in where her credit cards were stolen and she was a victim of assault. This happened the year before I became sheriff and she was begging me to re-open the case.
“I got the case file and went through it and the woman was able to provide a great description of the suspect and the vehicle. We featured the case on Lafayette Crime Stoppers and the next day we got five phone calls with tips.
“Vermilion Parish law enforcement had found the van involved and there were also receipts for the used credit cards that were in the lady’s purse. We were able to track the suspect to the Calcasieu Parish Jail and have him brought back here for arrest.
“It was then that I realized we needed a Crime Stoppers here in St. Landry, and we needed the help of our citizens,” said Guidroz.
Roberts and Darbonne said it has been hard to create an effective program in St. Landry.
The elderly and youths were especially reticent about reporting crime, Roberts said.
“The first year, people were not responding. We were just not getting many calls and tips,” Darbonne said.
Roberts said young people have begun accepting “that crime is a part of life. That made them unwilling to talk about crimes of which they may have had knowledge.”
The Crime Stoppers program is now making progress in convincing the younger residents that crime can be stopped by making them aware of arrests and the effort being made to stop criminals.
One other problem in establishing St. Landry’s program has been funding, Roberts said.
The Sheriff’s Office furnishes Darbonne with a Crime Stoppers office and a vehicle, but the daily operation is dependant upon fundraising and donations, said Roberts.
Occasionally fundraisers are held to provide addition funding for expenses and the rewards.
Darbonne said like in other parishes, St. Landry citizens’ tips are anonymous.
“That means if you call the office there is no caller ID. We won’t know who you are. If there is a reward, the person obtaining it also won’t be identified,” he said.