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Photo by FREDDIE HERPIN, Photographer

Contributing Writer

Opelousas Police Chief Martin McLendon says he occasionally hears gunshots that originate near his Madison Street residence, while City Marshal Paul Mouton describes an elderly population that often feels vulnerable inside their homes.

Young people with guns on the city’s streets have become a growing problem and both McLendon and Mouton admit they need more manpower and resources to continue providing adequate protection.

The city’s top two law enforcement officials expressed their concerns about personnel shortages last week to Opelousas Rotarians who honored three St. Landry Parish law enforcement officers.

McLendon said his officers deal often deal with reports of gunshots.

 “Gunfire reigns throughout the city. There are tons of guns now and we need more officers to help with getting these guns off the streets. These kids are moving around, some of them are coming in here from other places,” McLendon said.

McLendon said the obsession with weaponry that has reached a younger population is being reflected on what officers see on social media.

“The reality 25 years ago was everyone wanted Jordan’s. Now no one is wearing Jordan’s anymore. Today you see these young people posing with guns and making videos,” McLendon added.

McLendon said due to low pay, especially for beginning officers, his police force is operating with about half the strength it did 15 years ago.

“We had 60 police officers 15 years ago. Right now we have 34 (officers) and four of those are on sick leave. I will be the first to defend the work that our officers are doing, but when you are offered $13 an hour, that isn’t going to attract many people,” McLendon said.

McLendon said he is deliberating at this point whether to reopen North City Park on Easter Sunday.

“If I had 25 more officers we could work North City Park at Easter. Right now it’s a question of if we do open the park (on Easter) then what type of gun violence might take place. Those are the types of issues we face with our manpower crisis. We are working to overcome that by creating overlapping shifts,” McLendon said.

Mouton said related firsthand accounts of elderly residents that are awaking early to do their shopping in order to get back home and lock themselves in before the city becomes too active later during the day.

“Older people in this city are terrified. We (the City Marshal’s Office) are short of manpower. Right now we’re short three deputies. Here in Opelousas we are trying to be on top of things and do our part and make everyone’s lives comfortable,” Mouton said.

Mouton said part of the services provided by the City Marshal include helping elderly residents with basic services. Included among those services Mouton said, is assisting with protection.

“We’re getting more calls now to come and give our elderly people help. It’s getting more dangerous and we are doing more now, coming to into homes. When you get to be someone 80 years old, you’re supposed to be able to enjoy your lives,” Mouton noted.