'Innocent people are going to get killed if this crap continues,' Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand says after fatal Harvey shooting _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand yells as he address the media about Jefferson Parish deputies finding marijuana, firearms and ammunition in the vehicle of Desmond Willis, a man fatally shot by deputies in April 2015. Authorities say Willis began firing at them after a traffic stop in Harvey.

The red-faced diatribes have covered an array of topics, from the sanctity of "blue lives" to the reluctance of some Jefferson Parish residents to report drug dealing in their neighborhoods. 

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand soon will have an audience of thousands, three hours a day every weekday, for his outspoken opinions. 

Greatest hits

— He once denounced a piece of legislation as "bull****," testifying against a so-called sanctuary cities bill he feared would encroach on his authority.

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— And he wagged a similarly contemptuous finger at critics who questioned his handling of the shooting death of former NFL running back Joe McKnight, launching into an expletive-laden diatribe that drew almost as much national media attention as McKnight's killing.  

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— "We are collectively stupid," Normand declared during another impassioned news conference in 2015. "Have we lost any sense of altruism, of what's going on in the streets?"

— Normand has a well-known knack for sucking the air out of a room, whether he's railing against efforts to legalize marijuana or defending a deputy seen punching a teenager during a Mardi Gras arrest.

Channeling his populist predecessor as sheriff, the larger-than-life Harry Lee, Normand has cast an enduring image of an indignant lawman who seems to lose more patience with each passing tragedy.

Every Normand news conference, it seems, has had the potential for spectacle and surprise, as was the case again on Tuesday when he stunned his constituents — and the state's political establishment — with the announcement that he will retire at the end of next month.

In stepping down less than halfway through his third term, he will trade his influence at the helm of one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Louisiana for a microphone and the WWL-Radio midday time slot long held by Garland Robinette. 

Community 'cheerleader'

After years of castigating the media for "Monday-morning quarterbacking," Normand is now enthusiastically joining their ranks, saying the airwaves will afford him a platform to "influence the development of public opinion in a different way and so much broader landscape than I could ever imagine as sheriff." 

"I can help and be the cheerleader of this community and surrounding parishes and help move us from a third-tier to a second-tier economic region," Normand said. "We can try and improve upon ourselves, day in and day out, and hopefully help craft successes, help point out deficiencies, but more importantly help promote the place we call home."

Whether Normand's bombast will translate into a successful career in broadcasting is among the many questions raised by his unexpected departure. Long the subject of local headlines, his new role places him on the other side of the news, or what Normand referred to Tuesday as "the dark side."  

'A nonconformist'

"It's very difficult to shape opinion any longer with so many disparate voices on the horizon, but he will have a place at the table and some very precious real estate at WWL," said Jim Engster, a Baton Rouge radio personality and host of "The Jim Engster Show."

"He doesn't seem to be intimidated by much," Engster added in a telephone interview. "There will be a learning curve, but based on what we know about Newell Normand, he should be able to traverse uncharted waters."

It also remains to be seen what kind of on-air presence Normand will be when he begins his new gig Sept. 11, though it's a safe bet he will seek to bring attention to law enforcement-related issues, particularly in a city riven by crime.

While reliably conservative, he has never fit squarely into a Republican box, having clashed most memorably with former U.S. Sen. David Vitter and even endorsing John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, in the 2015 gubernatorial election.

"I've been a nonconformist in my life," Normand said, adding that the new job will take him outside of his comfort zone. He joked Tuesday that he will have to "go through FCC training," an acknowledgement of his tendency to belt out profanities on live television and radio.

"There are sides to Newell Normand that most people don't know," Diane Newman, WWL's operations and program director, said in a statement. "This show will give him room to expand — to display not just his unmatched smarts and institutional knowledge, but that passion and love of community that he always had to rein in as sheriff."

'Candid and straight to the point'

While unusual, Normand's jump from elected office to the news media is hardly unprecedented, though politicians making the switch have done so with varying degrees of success.

CNN hired former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to co-host a round-table discussion show, but that prime-time program was axed after about a year. Former U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough has enjoyed a far longer run as co-host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

"What I think Newell will be able to do is share with people what he knows politically, some of the real information you get being an insider behind the scenes," said Oliver Thomas, a former New Orleans city councilman who now hosts a daily talk-radio show on WBOK-AM. "I think he'll be candid and straight to the point." 

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.