LAFAYETTE — A retired State Police trooper with 25 years of law enforcement experience is challenging incumbent Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Neustrom in the Oct. 22 primary.
Richard “Rick” Chargois said he decided to run against Neustrom because, “There’s a significant amount of people (who) are looking for change in the community.”
Neustrom, who is seeking his fourth term, said the Sheriff’s Office has accomplished a lot during his past three terms, from expanding the office’s DNA capabilities to bringing in the latest in crime analysis technology, and “We’re not finished.”
The Sheriff’s Office is one of only about 39 sheriff’s offices in the nation to receive the Triple Crown Award, a designation given to agencies that achieve simultaneous national accreditations in law enforcement, corrections and correctional healthcare.
Neustrom said such designations are “a pretty good measure, I think, of what type of agency you have.”
If re-elected, Neustrom said he will continue to focus on “trying to pull the whole system of justice together.”
He said criminal justice components in the area — law enforcement, the courts, corrections and probation and parole — need to be integrated.
“We don’t have, I think, a good cohesive system where everyone is coming together and that’s one explanation for the slowness of the system,” Neustrom said, referring to the roughly 600 or so unsentenced prisoners being housed at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center.
Chargois said he believes the Sheriff’s Office is missing “someone who has law enforcement experience.”
Chargois said he began his career with State Police at age 19 and retired from the agency in 2004.
He has since worked as a private consultant, he said.
Chargois said he wants to be the “people’s sheriff.”
He said he promises to keep an open door to both the public and to his employees.
“It’s part of your job to be out there in the community,” Chargois said. “I’m going to make that happen. I’m going to be there.”
If elected, Chargois said he would enhance the patrol division and the investigative division, adding that he believed Neustrom has placed too much emphasis on the correctional side.
“I think the criminal justice side is suffering and I think the crime in our community is increasing,” Chargois said.
Neustrom countered that placing an emphasis on the correctional side was necessary to return balance to an area that had been neglected prior to his administration.
Neustrom said the Sheriff’s Office has “kept pace” by adding people to patrol and to other divisions such as Metro Narcotics and the Field Training Officer Program, which supplements the department’s patrol strength.
“We’re not going to just add people to add people,” Neustrom said. “We’re going to add people if they’re needed and we’ve done that.”
Upon taking office, Chargois said he would also open up bed space at the jail to allow agencies to begin booking prisoners immediately.
“We need to allow law enforcement to put people in jail who need to be put in jail,” Chargois said.
To ease overcrowding at the jail, the Sheriff’s Office implemented a policy in December 2007 that exempted most misdemeanor arrestees from paying bail as a requirement for release pending trial.
“My position is, there’s finite jail space,” Neustrom said. “It’s not an unlimited commodity.”
Neustrom said his administration’s stance on how the jail will be used will remain the same.
“We’re going to lock up the people who are the serious offenders, but the minor offenders we don’t feel like we have to lock them up because we can’t afford to,” Neustrom said. “We can’t afford to space wise.”
The jail’s primary function, Chargois said, is to accept prisoners following an arrest and to hold prisoners who are awaiting trial or sentencing.
“I don’t want to sacrifice public safety for the social programs,” Chargois said. “There needs to be a balance and I think that balance can be brought in by someone who has law enforcement experience.”
If elected, the challenger said he would perform evaluations on the various sections in place at the Sheriff’s Office, including those on the correctional side, “to make sure they’re within the stroke of what I believe the Sheriff’s Office should be doing.”
Chargois said he would expand rehabilitation programs that work toward educating prisoners by allowing them to learn a trade. Their skills and labor could then be utilized to help improve the jail at a reduced cost to taxpayers.
Neustrom said the programs in use at the Sheriff’s Office were put into place to help keep arrestees from being rearrested in the future.
“You’re not going to help everybody but you can help some people and that’s kind of our philosophy,” Neustrom said.