Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft is stepping down next month after 10 years leading the force and nearly four decades wearing the badge.
Craft made the announcement at a Friday morning news conference surrounded by his family.
“For 39 years, this group behind me has come second: anniversaries, birthdays, Christmases,” he said.
His retirement was expected.
Craft notified City-Parish Mayor-President Joey Durel in April that he likely would step down next year, and the chief said his decision was not impacted by the October election of Joel Robideaux, who will take Durel’s place on Jan. 4 as the new city-parish executive.
“This is not a sudden or impulsive decision,” said Craft, who met with Robideaux on Thursday to discuss his plans and offer his assistance in the transition.
Craft, 60, has served nearly his entire adult life as a Lafayette officer, and he said his Jan. 31 retirement was chosen because it is the anniversary of when he first joined the department in 1977.
“I want to go out on the same date that I came in,” he said.
Craft said he has no immediate plans, other than to relax with his family — his first grandchild was born recently, and a second is on the way — and work on his golf game.
“The first thing I’m going to do is learn how to hold a golf club correctly,” he said, commenting that there have been complaints from golf buddies on his grip.
Craft said he also is considering opportunities in law enforcement consulting and training.
“After 39 years, you do gain some expertise in some areas,” he said.
Reflecting on his time on the force, Craft said he came to treasure the work of building community relationships as much as the excitement of street work and investigations.
“When I was young, it was all about the action. It was all about going to the hot calls and getting in pursuits and chasing bad guys. Now, probably the thing I will miss the most is working with the community,” Craft said. “… We’ve accomplished a lot, but there is still much to be accomplished, especially in the area of community relations, relations with the minority community. That has to get better.”
Asked if he had any advice for his successor, Craft was quick with a quip.
“Don’t take the job,” he said.
Durel praised Craft for his service in general and, in particular, his success in securing accreditation for the department in 2013 from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which came after a thorough assessment of how well the department adheres to a long list of national law enforcement standards.
“He obviously brought the department to a whole new level of professionalism, proven by the fact that our Police Department has been accredited under his watch. This takes a great deal of commitment, including taking a critical look at all aspects of the department,” Durel said.
Robideaux said no decision has been made on Craft’s replacement and that he plans to look within and outside of the department.
“I will probably appoint someone in the interim,” Robideaux said. “I don’t know how long of a process that would be, but I’m not interested in rushing it.”
Robideaux, who has been meeting in recent weeks with city-parish staff to prepare for the transition, has yet to announce any new hires.
Craft is one of at least three key leadership positions now open.
Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley, who ran unsuccessfully against Robideaux, is leaving effective Jan. 4 to work as a vice president at public relations firm SIDES & Associates, and former Public Works Director Kevin Blanchard stepped down earlier this year to take a job as general counsel with Southern Lifestyle Development.