Mark Garber officially took over as Lafayette Parish sheriff on Friday, inheriting an agency seen statewide as a progressive law enforcement leader but, like the rest of the state, having fewer dollars to keep its services afloat.
Amid what Garber, 45, calls a “perfect storm” in declining state and local revenues, the innovative — yet expensive — programs created under now-retired, four-term Sheriff Michael Neustrom are facing a budget squeeze.
State funding is decreasing and tax revenues are down. The agency’s inmate re-entry programs are largely funded by state dollars that are in jeopardy of being cut, Garber said, along with a pending decrease in the per diem local sheriffs receive to house state inmates.
Garber maintains his commitment to efforts to divert people from jail, reduce recidivism and address the holes in mental health and homeless services, but said consolidations and downsizing are at hand as he continues evaluating the agency’s financial picture.
“If I see an opportunity to combine and consolidate without reducing services, I will,” Garber said in an interview last week. “We’ve got to tuck in during tough times.”
Law enforcement fundamentals have been Garber’s main focus during his transition into office since December, he said.
He’s shifted responsibilities for some employees so that 34 more deputies already on the payroll are now available to patrol. They’ve been placed under one chain-of-command in an effort to make them more responsive to calls for service.
“If you have that simplified unity, then you can adapt very, very quickly,” Garber said.
The sheriff has also been researching a new case management system for the agency, one that would be coordinated among law enforcement agencies parishwide. He’s also implemented a new look for the office, including a new tan-and-green color scheme and badge design that will be included in uniforms and the agency’s vehicles.
Some ongoing partnerships that will continue under Garber’s administration may prove an economic positive for the agency, such as its collaboration with Catholic Services of Acadiana to build a low-barrier shelter for the homeless.
The project is still in development, but it’s been touted as a way to provide shelter for the homeless without barriers — say sobriety or a lodging fee — to keep them from spending the night in jail.
The cost to house a person in such a shelter is between $12-$14 a day, compared to more than $50 a day to house someone in jail, Garber said.
“You don’t have to be an economist to realize that’s a better deal for the taxpayers,” he said.
Garber also said additional revenues could be made through LAPCORR, the agency’s enterprise through which inmates make products like trash bags and air filters and sell them to government and nonprofit organizations.
He said the Sheriff’s Office recently secured a contract to sell inmate-made air filters to the state.
“That’s a huge boon for us,” Garber said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunities there to go forward.”
Garber, now the 27th Lafayette Parish sheriff — and only the fourth since 1968 — introduced his new command staff at Friday’s swearing-in ceremony.
Former Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout, now a colonel, will replace Maj. Art LeBreton as chief deputy. LeBreton will now work as enforcement commander, and Maj. Jules Broussard will serve as a major over human resources.
Lafayette Parish Sheriff-elect Mark Garber on Tuesday named Carencro Police Chief Carlos Sto…
Garber’s former opponent in the fall election, Rick Chargois, will serve as a major over special services, which includes training, intelligence and narcotics.
Chargois said Friday he’s working to expand the intelligence section throughout the parish and, ultimately, throughout the region, by unifying information access across agencies.
“We’re gonna expand it to make it larger, more capable,” Chargois said.
He said he’s also working on expanding training options to regional law enforcement agencies as another way to bring in revenue.
Garber has also brought in Cathy Fontenot to serve as warden of the jail. The role had not been designated under Neustrom’s administration, with Corrections Director Rob Reardon, who last week announced he was leaving the office, overseeing the jail and programs, among myriad other duties.
Rob Reardon, who’s overseen corrections during outgoing Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Neustr…
Fontenot worked for the state Department of Corrections for 23 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola until January 2015, when she went to spend a year working with the Attorney General’s office.
The Violet native said she moved to Lafayette in third grade, graduated from Comeaux High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from what was then the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
She studied under Neustrom, who holds a doctorate in criminal justice and taught at the university for more than two decades before he first ran for sheriff in 1999.
Fontenot said Friday that during her time working on Garber’s transition into office, she helped correct staffing issues at the jail and is continuously evaluating the corrections division “to make sure we’ve got adequate coverage where it’s needed.”
She also said she’s focusing on bringing social programming inside the jail, giving inmates earlier access to those services.
Garber bested Scott Police Chief Chad Leger in a November runoff election, garnering more than 32,100 votes, or 55 percent of those cast.
Along with a private law practice focused on worker’s compensation, Garber previously served as a 15th Judicial District prosecutor in Lafayette.
He’s also held roles as a civilian U.S. Air Force interrogator in Iraq, a U.S. Secret Service agent and a police sergeant in Arlington, Texas, with prior local roles including the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office and state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
With his two young daughters on stage and after he was sworn into office by 15th Judicial District Judge Kristian Earles, Garber on Friday stressed his commitment to Lafayette Parish.
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be for the prime of my life and give the best part of my productive years and the best of my ability to this parish that I love, and to protect our way of life,” he said.