Neustrom says he won’t seek re-election as Lafayette sheriff _lowres

Photo by LANIE LEE COOK -- Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Neustrom, 67, announced Jan. 5, 2015, he would not seek a fifth term in the November 2015 election.

Mike Neustrom’s fourth term as Lafayette Parish sheriff will be his last.

With a year and a half left in office, Neustrom, 67, announced at a Monday news conference he will not seek re-election in the fall.

“I wanna do something different,” he said.

No candidate has made a formal announcement in the race, but Neustrom said eight to 10 of his current employees are fit for the job, and a few have expressed interest — although he would not disclose who.

“I’ll let these people speak for themselves,” the sheriff said.

Maj. Art LeBreton, Neustrom’s chief deputy since March 2004 and a Sheriff’s Office employee for more than three decades, said he has not made a decision whether to run.

“It’s something that’s being considered,” LeBreton said Monday. “There’s a variety of things I need to discuss with family and make sure that if I make a decision to enter the race, that I’m 100 percent committed to going forward with that without reservation.”

Neustrom said he made the announcement early so those who are considering the move “can get prepared.”

After working since 1977 as a criminology professor and department head at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Neustrom ran for sheriff in 1999 with a desire “to change what’s wrong,” he said.

He defeated opponent George Armbruster in a runoff that year with 60 percent of the vote, and he won another runoff against the same candidate in 2003. Neustrom then ran unopposed in 2007 before defeating Rick Chargois with about 66 percent of the 2011 vote.

“I think we’ve improved the agency significantly over the last decade and a half, and I’m proud of that,” Neustrom said.

Under his leadership, the Sheriff’s Office became accredited in 2003 by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement on top of its accreditation with the American Correctional Association.

The agency also eased pressure on its overcrowded jail downtown when it opened a new, $24 million alternative sentencing complex on Willow Street in April 2014. The five-building transitional facility on 29 acres houses low-risk inmates who are transported to and from daily work in the private sector.

It’s this transition from cold incarceration to work-release programs and mental rehabilitation that Neustrom said he wants to see continue under new leadership.

“The future of incarceration is not locking people up,” Neustrom said. “We’re looking at a different way of achieving public safety.”

The sheriff said he has plans for the remainder of his term to continue fine-tuning community collaborations on law enforcement, especially the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, formed in 2013 at his behest.

The committee brings together representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, police departments, court system, District Attorney’s Office, school system and city-parish government to coordinate criminal justice efforts.

“The focus is very simple: work together,” Neustrom said.

The CJCC’s most recent success, in September, targeted noncompliant, misdemeanor probation offenders by placing their warrants in a national database that blocks access to federal benefits until the warrants are resolved. Before that, federal benefits were denied only to Lafayette parishioners with outstanding felony warrants.

Neustrom said he also plans to continue working with AMIkids, even after he leaves office.

The Florida-based nonprofit has provided educational and behavioral intervention services since early 2013 to troubled students within the Lafayette Parish School System.

In October, he’ll begin service as chair of the nonprofit’s national board of directors.

“I have an interest in juvenile justice,” Neustrom said, adding that he’s considering a return to teaching in UL-Lafayette’s criminal justice program. The department focuses on juvenile justice at the graduate level.

“I’m not saying I’m definitely teaching, but I’m thinking about it,” Neustrom said.

But the sheriff reiterated that once leaving office, his primary focus will be on family.

A few years ago, “I thought, ‘I’m gonna be sheriff until I die,’ ” Neustrom said joking. “Then you see your family, and you say, ‘I’m not gonna be around forever.”

The father to six lost his 42-year-old daughter Alison to pancreatic cancer in September. He has seven grandchildren.

“I want to spend time with them,” Neustrom said.

Follow Lanie Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook

Editor’s note: This article was changed on Tuesday, Jan. 6, to reflect that Neustrom, in October, will become chairman of the board of directors of the national nonprofit group AMIkids.