Sheriff Greg Champagne

The sheriff discusses the importance of early childhood education and after-school programs.

Greg Champagne was first elected Sheriff of St. Charles Parish in 1995. He was the first Sheriff of St. Charles Parish to serve as President of the Louisiana Sheriff's Association in 2007 - 2008 and is the recent past- president of the National Sheriff's Association and is presently Chairman of the NSA Legal Affairs Committee.

He graduated from Nicholls State University in 1979 with a Bachelor's Degree in Government. He went on to receive his law degree from the Louisiana State University Law Center in 1982. He served as an assistant district attorney in St. Charles Parish for nearly 14 years and earned a reputation as being a tough, but fair prosecutor with a 94% conviction rate.

Sheriff Champagne joined “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” in 2009. Since becoming a member, Sheriff Champagne is a strong advocate for early education and mental health reform to help prevent kids from going down the wrong path and ending up in jail.

TRANSCRIPT

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Tavis: As part of our Road to Health series, we’re pleased to welcome Sheriff Greg Champagne to this program. He’s the sheriff of St. Charles Parish in Louisiana and a member of the national organization, “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” which helps prevent children from going down the wrong path and ending up in jail. Sheriff, good to have you on this program.

Greg Champagne: Thank you, Tavis, for having me.

Tavis: Let me jump right in. Tell me about the program, sir.

Champagne: “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” is a nonprofit national organization. It’s a child organization of the Council for a Better America, which has been formed by prominent military, law enforcement, coaches, business people.

It doesn’t seek government money. What it does, it highlights government programs that truly work to prevent crime and reach out to young children and kids at an early level so that we can get them upstream and try to prevent crime with them and help them be better citizens and live better lives.

Tavis: What kind of kids are we talking about? Because you hear this phrase all the time, “at-risk” children. I’m not even sure these days what that means anymore. What kind of kids are we talking about here?

Champagne: Well, you know, you and I probably had some great parents who did a great job with us that we are forever indebted to. Unfortunately, there’s some that maybe don’t have the quality parents that the rest of us did. So we try to reach out and fight crime, invest in kids.

The programs that it urges Congress to support and provide the funding for helps to try and reach those kids, those that have parents that may not be the best parents, that might not understand the difference between good discipline and abuse.

We find that a lot, so some of these early mentoring programs, these early childhood programs, can reach these parents and really teach them and help them to practice the skills that parents like you and I had that could help them become successful adults and crime-free.

Tavis: Do I take from your answer that you think or you have research or data that points to the fact that the majority of this is a parental problem?

Champagne: I can tell you from 35 years in law enforcement as a prosecutor and a sheriff that, if you show me a bad kid, more often than not I can show you some parents who didn’t really do their job or weren’t able to do their job. So, yeah, parenting is a key factor in the success of young adult.

Tavis: I say this not to demean or cast aspersion on the fine work that you do, but how do you respond to those persons who say that, more often than not, law enforcement is the problem, that it’s funny to look at Tavis talking to a law enforcement executive talking about how to discipline our kids when you guys are the ones that maltreat these kids in the streets all across the country?

Champagne: Well, first off, thank you so much for allowing me to come in here and highlight what is some truly positive work being done by law enforcement. You know, the bad situations, the bad incidents, they always make the headline news.

We all know that, but there is so much good being done by law enforcement agencies, especially the 3,088 sheriffs that I’ve had the honor of representing in the past year as their national president. So there are a lot of programs.

We’re elected by the public and, if you look at sheriffs — again, not to cast any aspersions on police chiefs, they answer to mayors and city councils. Sheriffs of America are overwhelming elected, so we take that accountability directly to the public very seriously.

I think you’ll find, if you go around and look at the Sheriff’s Office like I’ve done, offices around the country, that there are so many youth programs that they work in, that they implement, things that we need to do to get young kids as they’re growing up with sheriff deputies, with police officers, so that these relationships are established at an early age. I like to use the phrase that we can’t grow oak trees without first planting acorns.

I think you’ll find that some of these programs, these early childhood intervention programs which work with parents, kids camps which many state sheriff stations association do in the summer, the cornerstones of my programs, I believe, is that these things put kids with deputies.

There’s relationships. They know each other in first names. In my parish alone, a parish of 55,000 which is a county — parish is a county in Gulfport. You’re familiar with us…

Tavis: I know the system down there, yeah, yeah.

Champagne: You know, 55,000 people, and over the last 20 years, we’ve put 2,000 teenagers through our annual Sheriff’s Camp in Kiln, Mississippi not far from where you’re from. And if you think about that, we got 2,000 kids, some of them now in their 20s and 30s, who know sheriff’s deputies in St. Charles Parish on a first-name basis. You know, it’s difficult to have trouble and have conflict with people when you know by first name and you’ve been knowing them all growing up.

So it’s a microcosm of what we hope can spread and be done nationwide and that’s what “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” look to do to promote programs like this, to hopefully urge Congress to reauthorize the Early Childhood Intervention Program, MIECHV, which is up for by September of 2017 that statistics show work.

These early intervention programs help parents become better parents and what it does is, it minimizes the chance that these kids are going to get into criminal activities and statistics show it.

Sometimes 50% of these kids that are subject to these volunteer programs where healthcare workers, social workers, go in and talk with kids, talk with families, teach families a little more about parenting, the numbers are really astounding and they are proof, which is why “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” endorses these programs. Because they’re statistically shown to work and reduce crime.

Tavis: This segment is called “Road to Health” and you can understand why we wanted to have you on as a part of this conversation. Because this is clearly about the health of our children, which is about the health of our nation.

There are a number of things in the Trump budget that are on the chopping block, including maybe this network, PBS, and Public Radio. He’s not a fan of our work. So maybe the answer is, because you guys are law enforcement, the president seems to love law enforcement, maybe you’re okay.

But what sense are you getting about whether or not a program like that, by your own admission, where the statistics show it works and it works well, what sense are you getting whether or not it’s on the chopping block because so many programs like this are on the chopping block in this budget?

Champagne: Well, the programs that “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” endorses, including the early childhood intervention programs that I’ve talked to you about, they’re bipartisan. They have traditionally received bipartisan support, so the whole thing about this, we try to keep it being bipartisan, you know, and not let it get into the political area.

These are problems that work. I mean, you don’t often hear sheriffs and chiefs of police coming in and saying, “Let talk about an early childhood program.” Thank God it doesn’t involve arresting people. It doesn’t involve crime. It doesn’t involve drug overdoses, things like that.

It’s things that we can do upstream that can make our jobs easier and, you know what? Make communities safer. So we hope to keep these things into the bipartisan area, which they have been thus far, so we hope Democrats and Republicans alike, and the president, supports the reauthorization of these early childhood intervention programs in September.

Tavis: How much of this, Sheriff, do you think has to do with fear? And I mean fear on the part of cops, sheriff’s, law enforcement and fear on the part of fellow citizens? Because I can show a number of communities across this country — you know this stuff better than I do — where the community is on high alert so often because they are afraid of law enforcement.

I can show you places like the south side of Chicago, the west side, where the data points out that the police are scared to go into those neighborhoods. If you have a fear problem where the citizens are scared of the cops, the cops are scared of the citizens, and obviously the children are caught in the middle of all of this, what say you about that reality of fear on both sides of the equation?

Champagne: There’s no doubt that in a lot of the major urban centers in the country that that does exist. You know, when you see some of the incidents that have been highlighted, been on the top of the news so often, it helps create that fear. So we’ve got some issues.

In the New Orleans Police Department right now, 600 officers down. In a lot of the major cities right now, the big problem is recruiting new police officers because there are a lot of young people who want to go into law enforcement.

They go, “Do I really want to get into those situations where there is so much hostility?” So it’s causing a problem for everybody. Then we have less police officers and those communities are not served well and not as protected well as they should be.

But I can tell you, come to a lot of the sheriff’s, outside of the urban centers sheriffs who are elected, we’ve got to satisfy those voters come election time. I think you’ll come and you’ll find that there might not be so much conflict in a lot of areas around the country. The urban centers do get — you know, Chicago and some crime issues in New Orleans also right now, which we’re hopefully working on.

Tavis: I’m going to put you on the spot here just for a quick second.

Champagne: Okay.

Tavis: If you were — just imagine that you’re looking out, instead of a stage, you’re looking at a big audience of young people, children of color, specifically. What’s your best pitch to them for why they should consider a career in law enforcement, given what many of them think about law enforcement?

Champagne: I would tell them that this is an honorable profession and that, if you truly want to do good for your communities, this is the place where it can really be done.

There’s no doubt that the overwhelming — I mean, completely overwhelming — numbers of law enforcement officers are good and dedicated men and women and really are there because it’s a calling and they want to serve their communities. They want to make their communities better.

So overlook the high-profile incidents. Come in, see what’s all about. Talk to a law enforcement officer. Talk to a sheriff’s deputy. Find out what really drives them and I think they will find that we’ll see some of those that will do it. And we encourage that.

There’s nothing better than that, being able to get a more diverse workforce around the country of both sheriffs and police departments around the country. But give it a try. Don’t just listen to what you’ve seen on the news. Come in and see for yourself and talk to good law enforcement officers and find out what gratification they get from the job. There is a lot of gratification.

Tavis: You’ve convinced them here in Hollywood. You were looking at the audience while you were talking. I was like, “Who’s he looking at?” [laugh]

Champagne: I’m imagining that audience.

Tavis: I love that you played your character and you played it well [laugh]. That was very nicely done, sir.

Champagne: Thank you.

Tavis: Give me some sense of whether or not in your interplay with these young people in the work that you do in this organization, whether or not you sense a greater openness on the parts of young girls, young boys, it’s about the same. I’m just trying to get the sense of how you interact with these audiences and whether or not you pick up on any differences in these groups.

Champagne: Well, I’m not sure I understand. But in addition to when we talked about summer camps, I mean, I believe — and I think a lot…

Tavis: But there are girls and boys in these camps?

Champagne: Well, our camp, unfortunately, is a boys camp. It’s a Boy Scout facility we use. We’d love to find one for the girls.

Tavis: That’s why I was asking you.

Champagne: But let me tell you. I believe in putting sheriff’s deputies out there in any programs. I’ve got a list I’d like to get into you with that puts kids with law enforcement officers to where they get to know them, they get to know what they’re all about, like this camp again.

It’s all only sheriff’s deputies who supervise these kids in this camp going on 20 years, 2,000 kids. We’ve had several of them become sheriff’s deputies in our parish.

Now this is going on around the country. It’s nothing that I’ve got a patent on. I think we’ve done it and I think a lot of law enforcement agencies, especially sheriffs, are really doing it. So it’s an opportunity that we have to see and cultivate, you know. Again, get those acorns to become oak trees, but it does take time.

Tavis: I appreciate your work and good to have you on the program, sir.

Champagne: Thank you so much for letting me do it.

Tavis: Thank you, sir. For those who saw his name across the bottom of the screen, it is pronounced Champagne. I know how to pronounce champagne, but that’s not how he pronounces his last name. I got that right, didn’t I?

Champagne: Yes, sir.

Tavis: Okay, good. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t get letters, “You can’t pronounce champagne?” Anyway…

Champagne: That’s it already?

Tavis: That’s it, man, that’s it. I enjoyed having you on. I got to make room for this other guy. Up next, entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria, in case you don’t know the name. It’s the John Paul Mitchell guy with the ponytail. He’s here in just a second, so stay with us.

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Last modified: July 28, 2017 at 2:05 pm