In the two months since four-term Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Neustrom announced his retirement, three candidates with varied law enforcement backgrounds — from being former deputies in the Sheriff’s Office to an agent in the Secret Service — have joined the campaign.
Mark Garber, a former prosecutor with the 15th Judicial District, announced his campaign Tuesday, a day after John P. Rogers, a litigation specialist for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, announced his candidacy.
Scott Police Chief Chad Leger was the first to announce in January his plans to run for the position.
“I’ve worked in every aspect of the parish,” said Leger, 48, who worked for 12 years as a sheriff’s deputy under former Lafayette Sheriff Donald Breaux before he was elected Scott’s chief of police, a position he’s held since 2003.
At the Sheriff’s Office, Leger worked as a patrol deputy as well as in the narcotics, SWAT and criminal investigations divisions. He also was a resource officer for the Lafayette Parish School System.
He said his candidacy provides voters the “best opportunity to unify law enforcement,” because of his relationships with other parish law enforcement leaders who all began their careers at the Sheriff’s Office at the same time as Leger.
“It’s a working relationship that Lafayette Parish has never seen,” Leger said.
His campaign has the support of Broussard Police Chief Brannon Decou, Youngsville Police Chief Rickey Boudreaux and Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope, all three of whom began their careers with Leger at the Sheriff’s Office.
Rogers, 39, also began his 15-year career at the Sheriff’s Office, working in the jail and later in the enforcement, patrol and narcotics divisions before he earned a law degree from Southern University in 2012.
He spent a year as a third-party administrator for the state Office of Risk Management before he returned to the Sheriff’s Office in 2013 where he serves as a litigation specialist, which is a “go-between” for attorneys representing both the plaintiffs and defendants in any litigation in which the Sheriff’s Office is involved, he said.
“I know what a lot of our men and women have gone through,” Rogers said of his experience as a deputy.
But while Leger and Rogers are focusing their campaigns on the experiences they’ve gained while working at the Sheriff’s Office along with their other law enforcement-related positions within the parish, Garber said his experiences in law enforcement outside of the parish makes him uniquely qualified to be sheriff.
“I think it’s important to infuse our leadership with different perspectives,” Garber said. “It’s not that being here is a wrong perspective, but diversity is strength.”
Garber, 44, began his 20-year law enforcement career at the Arlington Police Department in Texas, where he worked while earning a law degree from Southern Methodist University. After finishing law school, he worked in both counterintelligence and narcotics investigations for the U.S. Air Force, including a monthlong tour in 2005 as an interrogator in Iraq before he became an agent with the U.S. Secret Service in New York City.
He and his family returned home to Lafayette in 2008, where he worked for six years with the District Attorney’s Office before retiring from the position in 2014. He now has a private law practice focused primarily on worker’s compensation cases.
So far, only Leger has filed a finance report for the Oct. 24 election, showing that he has received about $180,000 in campaign donations.
Rogers and Garber would not disclose what they’ve raised so far, but Garber said he’s doing “very well” since joining the race last week, and Rogers said he’s “very pleased with the amount of support” he’s gotten since also announcing last week.
Since each candidate began his campaign, Neustrom has brought them inside the Sheriff’s Office to examine each division so the candidates can gain a feel for how the office operates.
“One of the biggest challenges is staffing,” Leger said.
With about 20 positions vacant in the department that has more than 800 positions, Leger said filling those positions and keeping them staffed would improve the efficiency of law enforcement parishwide.
He said he also would like to see the office continue looking into ways to minimize incarceration.
The three candidates agreed that alternative sentencing efforts pioneered under Neustrom’s leadership, including work-release programs that allow some inmates to earn money working in the private sector while finishing their sentences, are good programs. However, they said their constituents want more transparency in the programs, especially in how they are operated and how they’re funded.
The alternative sentencing efforts are based at the year-old public safety complex on Willow Street, a $24 million investment that provides inmate housing, space for law enforcement training and a manufacturing facility, Lafayette Parish Correctional Industries, known as LAPCORR. The facility’s 200 beds, which are for inmates who are nearing the end of their sentences, have eased overcrowding in the downtown jail, which houses almost double the capacity of inmates for which it was built.
Rogers began his law enforcement career working in the jail, and he now deals firsthand with lawsuits filed by those who claim mistreatment while they’re locked up.
“I think we need more qualified, well-trained people in the jails and facilities,” he said.
Rogers said he also wants to take a hard look at the budget and “focus on streamlining it in the best possible way.”
Garber is also interested in streamlining the budget. He said his time as a prosecutor allowed him to learn the “ins and outs” of each law enforcement agency in the parish and the need for each to work both efficiently and in coordination with one another.
“Spending money on infrastructure is a way to save money if you do it correctly,” Garber said, referencing the need for a multiagency offender database that streamlines information parishwide. “It’s gotta happen.”
Neustrom’s retirement marks one of several parish law enforcement leadership positions undergoing a change.
The new year brought in Keith Stutes, the first new 15th Judicial District attorney in two decades; Brian Pope, the newest Lafayette city marshal in three decades; and Craig Stansbury, the first new director in 36 years of the Lafayette Parish Communication District, which oversees parishwide homeland security and emergency operations.
Neustrom, who was first elected sheriff in 1999, worked for four years as director of the Police Department at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now University of Louisiana at Lafayette, before spending two decades as a criminology professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His fourth term expires in July 2016.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or call her at (337) 534-0825.