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New police chief has big goals, bigger challenges

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SORRENTO - The unfunded and uninsured police department of Sorrento has a new police chief, but local leaders say it won't last.

Fern Barnett, 71, took over last week after the last of her opponents in the police chief's election dropped out of the race. The grandmother of 17 doesn't have much support heading up the controversial department, but says she is ready to try.

The deparment's been in the hot seat since former chief Earl Theriot was convicted on a federal charge of lying to the FBI about having a drunk woman perform sexual acts on him in his office. The department has also been shut down since January, local leaders call it corrupt and useless, and they want it shut down for good.

The new chief isn't ready to see happen.

"I want to see it be the kind of police department it should be," said Barnett. "It's a desk job, anyone can do it. I'm qualified to handle any office, I can learn anything like anyone else."

Despite a long list of road blocks including finding an insurer, people to hire, and creating new policies and procedures, Chief Barnett continues to fight for her title. It's a position that may no longer exist come November, when the town of Sorrento will vote to either abolish or keep the department.

"Chances are, I probably will resign if they vote to get rid of it," Chief Barnett said. "I mean, it doesn't make any sense for me to stay."

Mayor Mike Lambert and members of the city council want the doors shut on the department for good.

"What's the advantage for the people of Sorrento," Lambert said, "just to have their name on a police car?"

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley said his office will take over around the clock if the police department is closed, which would cost Sorrento $353,000 a year.

"We can't offer the services that the sheriff's office can provide," Mayor Lambert said. "The sheriff's office has 17 divisions."

Voters will decide next month, whether or not, to abolish the department.


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