Meet the 2016-2017 NSA President
Sheriff Greg Champagne has spent his entire career protecting and serving the citizens of St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, first as an assistant district attorney and now as its sheriff. He is only the second sheriff in the 200-year history of the St. Charles Sheriff ’s Office to garner a sixth term; three times, he ran unopposed.
Champagne has a long history of service to his fellow sheriffs as well. Within NSA, he chairs the Legal Affairs Committee and is a member of the Congressional Affairs, Global Affairs, and Homeland Security committees.
In his home state, he is a past president of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, serves on the Louisiana State Law Institute’s Committee on Criminal Justice, and is a certified POST instructor at the St. Charles Parish Sheriff ’s Office Training Academy. Gov. Bobby Jindal appointed him in 2012 to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, and Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Kitty Kimball named him to represent sheriffs on the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Court Security Task Force.
A respected member of the national law enforcement community, Champagne was appointed to the National Commission on Forensic Science by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in 2015. He also serves on the executive board of the United States Eastern District of Louisiana Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Sheriff & Deputy sat down with Sheriff Champagne to talk about his priorities for his term as NSA president, the importance of this year’s presidential election, and the opportunities for today’s sheriffs to make a difference in their communities.
|Sheriff Champagne, an accomplished trumpet player, performs taps at the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office Law Enforcement Memorial Service.
Q. Like all of your fellow sheriffs, you’re extraordinarily busy and have many demands for your time. Why do you believe it is so important to spend some of that time serving on the leadership of the National Sheriffs’ Association?
A. When I attended my first NSA conference in Atlanta in 1997, I had no idea or plans to ever try to become a member of the board of directors, much less become an executive officer or president. However, I believe in continuing education and continuous learning. I was positively impacted by the networking that took place at NSA conferences, and how many progressive things I learned to take back home to my office. Being involved in NSA quickly grew on me, and it is gratifying to be in a position to give back to America’s sheriffs. We truly are the front line of defense for our homeland.
Q. What are your priorities for your year as president of NSA?
A. This is an exciting time for sheriffs and NSA. We are on the verge of a presidential election that will have monumental impact on this country. We have a dynamic new executive director, whom I am proud to have played a role in selecting.
First and foremost, I will be aggressively promoting NSA’s partnership with the International Academy of Public Safety and the new leadership and ethics courses that we have endorsed and offer to all sheriffs. While these are tough times for law enforcement, we have to be open to new ideas and ways of doing business to continue to build and reinforce the trust we enjoy in our counties and parishes. I urge all sheriffs to take a good, hard look at this training program. It will be one of the best initiatives you will ever undertake.
Our Sheriffs’ Education and Legal Policy Fund (SELPF) will enable NSA to rise to a new level nationally. For too long, we have been too quiet and not gotten involved in the political and legal fights that affect us—and our citizens—so much. In D.C., you’ve got to be “on the train,” or you just may be stuck on the tracks.
Mental health reform will also be a key initiative during my tenure. We cannot continue to allow the national disgrace of allowing our jails to be the de facto mental health treatment facilities of this great country. Our fellow citizens deserve so much more. It’s time we hold politicians accountable for their failure to reform a completely broken mental health care system.
The new sheriff’s purchasing portal, Law Enforcement Pro, will soon be in operation; it will be a great help to sheriffs and a financial boon for NSA. We must embrace this dynamic new concept proposed by our director, Jonathan Thompson, and approved by the board. It will only be successful if all sheriffs participate.
Q. You mentioned the importance of this year’s presidential election. How does the person who occupies the White House affect law enforcement at the local level?
A. The president of the United States can have a tremendous impact on state and local law enforcement. That impact can certainly be positive, as well as negative. All we ask is that a president not interfere in our ability to do our jobs, nor prevent us from obtaining the tools we need to do the job. In short, we don’t want to be micromanaged from Washington, D.C.
Sheriffs are truly democratically elected and accountable to our constituents. It’s no secret that law enforcement has been put on the defensive during the last several years. We need to work hard to be sure our deputies are well-trained and work hard every day to maintain the trust our citizens have placed in us.
Q. It’s certainly true that sheriffs face significant challenges. What kind of support do sheriffs need from their elected officials on the local, state, and national level?
A. Virtually every public official first turns to the local sheriff for political support when running for office and for re-election. We must be more vocal about what sheriffs need in the way of action once those state legislators, congressmen, and senators get into office. In the last few years, we have seen what can happen when an administration does not politically respect sheriffs. We have been playing defense for too long. It’s time to get the ball back, and go on the offense for the betterment of our communities.
Q. You were an assistant district attorney. You could have gone on to a comfortable career in private practice. What made you first decide to run for sheriff? More importantly, what made you decide to run again?
A. I enjoyed my years as a felony prosecutor and the gratitude I felt when obtaining justice for victims. Frankly, I found the civil law I practiced years ago to be boring in comparison. When the opportunity to run for sheriff presented itself, I was a little hesitant, but I haven’t looked back since. I can’t imagine a more exciting and gratifying job than being an American sheriff. The public truly admires an honest and hardworking sheriff, because they know that we are the true “thin blue line” between the safety of their family and possible chaos.
Q. You have a law enforcement career that has spanned more than three decades. What are some of the biggest changes you have seen since you started as an assistant DA in 1982?
A. Without a doubt, technology has brought about the most significant changes to law enforcement, both positively and negatively. I have been fortunate to serve on the National Commission on Forensic Science for the last two years. It has been an eye-opening experience from the standpoint of where technology and science are today, as opposed to where we were 30 years ago. Social media has also rewritten the rulebook on public relations. This has not been without its challenges, though. We are in the CSI age—in which the expectations of the public are sometimes unrealistic. Law enforcement is “in the fishbowl” like never before.
Q. What do you see as the opportunities for sheriffs today to make a difference in their communities?
A. The opportunities for sheriffs to make a difference in their counties are no less than they have ever been. Our constituents want an honest leader to protect them and their families. To do this, we need not to be afraid of speaking out on important issues. The National Sheriffs’ Association provides training and networking opportunities at our annual and winter conferences. I urge all sheriffs to make an effort to attend one of these important conferences, especially if they have not yet had the opportunity to do so. They will be surprised at what they will take away.
Pat Curry is the senior editor of Sheriff & Deputy magazine.