Rather than pitting candidates for Lafayette Parish sheriff against each other in a debate, outgoing Sheriff Mike Neustrom’s administration is taking its own approach in presenting the four contenders in a forum intended to isolate them both from outside influences and from one another.
The four candidates say they will attend the forum Thursday, where each will be held in a room away from the auditorium until chosen at random to answer questions before the public, Sheriff’s Office Communications Coordinator Julio Naudin said. The candidates also will be restricted from using cellphones while they wait.
“The forum is not a debate but an opportunity for the general public to hear each candidate’s unique response to questions regarding their approach to the complex operation of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office and our criminal justice system,” Naudin said.
The four candidates have already appeared before the public as other groups and organizations have hosted meet-and-greets and forums.
Political science professor Dr. Pearson Cross, interim associate dean of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s College of Liberal Arts, will moderate the limited-seating forum. It begins at noon at the Sheriff’s Office Public Safety Complex, 1825 W. Willow St.
Scott Police Chief Chad Leger formally began his campaign for the Lafayette sheriff’s position in January when Neustrom announced his retirement. Former 15th Judicial District prosecutor Mark Garber and John Rogers, a litigation specialist with the Sheriff’s Office, both announced in March, and former State Police lieutenant Rick Chargois announced his candidacy in April.
After working since 1997 as a criminology professor at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Neustrom won the 1999 sheriff’s election with 60 percent of the vote. He won re-election in 2003, ran unopposed in 2007, and in 2011, he defeated Chargois — his only opponent — with 66 percent of the vote.
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, along with the jail’s product manufacturing enterprise, LAPCORR.
Regarded as a progressive leader in the state’s slow-changing world of incarceration, Neustrom has said he wants to see the job-training and rehabilitation programs started during his tenure continued under new leadership.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.