LAFAYETTE, La. (The Daily Advertiser) – The months since Mark Garber was elected the next sheriff of Lafayette Parish have been a whirlwind of major changes for him and the office he will take control of July 1.
From new car decals and sweeping changes to the sheriff’s patrol division to a new warden and a more uniform payscale system, Garber and his administration have been at work since January to put in motion the changes the incoming sheriff envisioned.
“It’s been hard, but we’ve used every day to prepare the transition,” he said.
Here are some of the biggest changes you’ll see:
On the streets
While campaigning for sheriff, Garber said he’d work to use the officers LPSO has more intelligently. Now less than a month away from becoming sheriff, he said he’s been able to almost double the number of patrol deputies on the street for every shift without hiring any more deputies.
After looking at the structure of LPSO, Garber said he’ll have eight deputies who would normally be working from their desks, including K9 deputies and deputies with the STARR Unit, out onto the streets, bringing the average number of officers available to assist the public on a shift to 19.
“There’s no compromise in service from this,” he said. “Now every officer on a shift will take calls.”
The restructuring of the patrol division will place 34 more deputies on the streets in total, he said.
“We want the people to know that while they’re sleeping, while they’re at work and going about their day, they’ve got more people out in vests and guns,” Garber said.
Additionally, Garber said, he’ll have his patrol deputies assigned to geographical locations within the parish, so they can get to know the people in the area in an effort to build familiarity between the LPSO and the public.
“It’ll be the same deputies in your area every day,” he said. “I think it’s key to building trust.”
In the jail
Cathy Fontenot, an assistant warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary for almost 20 years, will take over as warden of The Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, formerly overseen by Director of Corrections Rob Reardon. Reardon will continue directing the sheriff’s rehabilitation and diversionary programs.
Garber said since bringing Fontenot in, they’ve been able to speed up booking times and run the jail more efficiently. Garber said having a warden in the jail will help increase oversight of the jail after a bevy of lawsuits regarding jail conditions have been settled.
- John Howard died in his cell hungry on Dec. 15, 2012, after he was held for 17 days in the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center with his booking incomplete.
- Steven Duplechain had his cell lock “popped” by inmates and assaulted twice in the middle of the night on July 27. Duplechain said he was arrested on a warrant he allegedly already satisfied.
- Correctional deputies Brandon Gallien and Michael McSheffrey pepper sprayed an inmate, Jason Brungardt, and beat him in a holding cell, breaking three of his ribs and puncturing a lung. They then left the inmate restrained in a chair for an hour before taking him to a hospital.
- An inmate was sexually assaulted in the shower after deputies spoke openly about his status as a narcotics informant, and another was raped after his jail door was “popped” by four inmates. The collection of DNA was not properly done in the case of the first inmate and so it’s unknown who raped him. The second pressed the emergency call button during the rape, and no one showed up until the next morning.
Restructuring the sheriff’s office has been a daunting task, but the former prosecutor and police officer said it’s been one he’s thoroughly enjoyed.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said. “I love the complexity of this office. Voters willing, I feel like I’ll be good here for at least 20 years.”