History of Police Jury Government - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

History of Police Jury Government

Louisiana's Police Jury form of government has been around since the early 1800's. As you're aware, our state is unique in the nation in that is has parishes instead of counties.

The vast majority of these parishes are governed by Police Juries. In fact, 41 of the state's 64 parishes operate under the Police Jury form of government, including Calcasieu.  

Once, Louisiana had counties. Shortly after the Louisiana territory was purchased by the United States, the newly created legislative council met in 1804 and divided the state into 12 counties.

These counties proved to be too large for satisfactory administration and in 1807, the state was divided into 19 parishes based, for the most part, on the boundaries of the ecclesiastical parishes established in 1762.

Blaine Miller with the Imperial Calcasieu Museum: "A Catholic Parish was decided upon as being the farthest area that the priest could ride on horseback, within reason, to go to the outlying churches to conduct a mass once a month."

It was in 1810 when legislation created the office of sheriff for each parish and provided that he is paid from the "police assembly of the parish."  An 1811 act made members of the police assembly elective and officially designated this body as "police jury."  Two years later, legislation provided for wards within parishes for election of members to serve on police juries.

Police juries were gradually given added powers over the next two decades and began to function much as they do today.

McNeese Professor, Dr. Henry Sirgo: "It's actually more like the British Parliament than it is like the state government or the U.S. government in that we don't have separation of powers.  We have these police jurors who have this legislative authority and executive authority.  They elect from their members a Police Jury president."

Calcasieu Parish was created March 24th, 1840, from the parish of Saint Landry, one of the original civil parishes. When it was created, it comprised an area of what is now known as the five-parish area.

Blaine Miller: "To make a trip to Opelousas in the 1830's or 1840's, a lot of times the wagon trails weren't passable, so a lot of people went on horseback. When you got to a river, a lot of people had to take their clothes off and hold them over their head and ride their horses across the rivers, and it was a very dangerous, treacherous, long route to take just to do business."

The parish boundary was reduced in 1870 when Cameron Parish was cut off from the south portion of Calcasieu. These limits remained until 1912. Still, it comprised an area of over 3,600 square miles and was the largest parish in the state. For this reason, it's sometimes called "Imperial Calcasieu."

In 1912, the three parishes of Allen, Beauregard, and Jefferson Davis were cut off from Calcasieu Parish. These were the last parishes created in Louisiana.

And just in case you're curious, the Louisiana constitution of 1845 dropped all references to counties.

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