Sheriff’s candidates discuss mental health issues, hiring

Lafayette Parish Sheriff candidates Rick Chargois, John Rogers, Chad Leger, and Mark Garber pose for a photograph during a candidate forum at the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office Public Safety Complex in Lafayette, LA, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. (Photo: Paul Kieu, The Advertiser)

More than 400 people gathered at the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office Safety Complex Thursday to learn more about the four candidates running for Lafayette Parish Sheriff.

The forum, moderated by Pearson Cross, interim associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, featured the four announced candidates Rick Chargois, Mark Garber, Chad Leger, and John Rogers.

They were asked questions regarding personal experiences, public safety, diversionary programs and the problems the sheriff’s department faces with officer vacancies.

This forum was different from the others that have taken place in recent months, in that only one candidate took the stage at a time, while the others were sequestered to another room in the complex.

What skills do you possess that will make it possible to accomplish the budgetary and personnel management along with the public service needs expected of a sheriff?

Rick Chargois, a former Louisiana State Police Lieutenant, pointed to his experience working as a trooper and working across agency lines to solve crimes.

“While with the state police, we’ve gone in and taken over agencies when they’ve failed,” he said. “I’m very used to working with other groups of people to come to a common goal.”

Attorney Mark Garber said his “his unique combination of experiences” make him a great fit for sheriff. From working as a deputy in Acadia Parish to being an agent in the Secret Service, Garber said his experience and knowledge of local and federal law enforcement, as well as his experience working with as a felony prosecutor in Lafayette has conditioned him well for the job.

Leger said after spending 12 years as the chief of police in Scott, which he noted is the second safest town in Louisiana, he’s the only candidate with experience in running a law-enforcement business.

Rogers, a 15-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, is a deputy and litigation specialist who holds a law degree he obtained while employed at LPSO. With two years in administration, he said his strength is that he’s the inside guy.

How will you recruit and retain officers?

Chargois said he would work to eliminate salary caps to make sure the sheriff’s office becomes a career for its employees, and not just a temporary job.

Garber said he would work to increase the quality of life for deputies in the office with opportunities to gain education and projects like a daycare center for officers with young children. H added that he has a plan to raise employee pay without a tax increase.

Rogers said the sheriff’s office shouldn’t be a place to just get a job; it needs to be a place for officers who want to serve and have a career, and that he would create an atmosphere of public service within the department.

What are your visions for diversionary programs and the work LPCC does with the mentally ill?

Chargois said he regards the diversionary programs Sheriff Mike Neustrom set forth as visionary, and would keep them if elected, but would look into them to see if streamlining can be done.

Garber said he’d work with other agencies and organizations in the region to create a plan that will take the burden of housing, medicating and rehabilitating the mentally ill off of the sheriff’s office.

Leger said he plans to focus on juveniles and specifically the Juvenile Assessment Center, which he says he was appointed by Sheriff Neustrom to help create. Building strong relationships between his deputies and the children and parents they serve can help keep them out of the system in the first place, he said.

Rogers said he’d work to assess every piece of the sheriff’s office, look at what works and what makes money, and look for ways to trim the budget.

“It’s about fiscal responsibility, but it’s mostly about what ya’ll want,” he said. “I’m not going to sit at 316 Main St., bang my chest and say, ‘I’m the top dog.’ If that’s the kind of sheriff that you want, I’m not your candidate.”

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