As Lafayette Parish voters determine who will replace Mike Neustrom this fall, it’s important to understand the difference he’s made in local law enforcement.We’re entering that four-year cycle in Louisiana when an overwhelming percentage of elected offices are up for grabs. Many municipal and parish posts are in play on the same ballot with every legislative and statewide office, and voter interest is running high. This is especially true in Lafayette, where two of our most important and effective parish-wide office holders will retire from public service this year.
Two candidates for city-parish president made their intentions known a year ago, generating lots of early buzz. The field in the race for sheriff appears to have taken shape, and it’s time to shift our focus to the legacy of Mike Neustrom. His record is worthy of note as we compare those who would replace him this fall.
When he first announced in 1999, Neustrom was anything but the stereotypical Louisiana sheriff. The mildmannered academic ran head-to-head with a law enforcement veteran who was well-liked, well-funded and considered the frontrunner by most. Neustrom garnered 60 percent of the vote that year, beat two opponents the following cycle, ran unopposed the next and won two to-one against a single opponent in 2011 — impressive numbers for a new breed of sheriff, even in one of the most progressive parishes in the state.
With a Ph.D. in criminal justice, master’s in police administration and more than two decades at the head of college classrooms, Neustrom brought with him best practices in all areas of department operations. Perhaps the most important innovation has occurred in the corrections department, where he introduced data-driven, results-oriented offender programs designed to decrease recidivism rates. (More on that next month in our sister publication The Independent.) He’s taken the lead to create the Lafayette Parish Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, bringing together for the first time the district attorney, judges, law enforcement officials from various jurisdictions, the school board, university and mental health professionals to collaborate on new strategies to cut crime.
Under his tenure, the department has been recognized regionally and nationally for excellence.
So what are the hallmarks of Neustrom’s tenure? Honesty. Integrity. Professionalism. Humility. Low profi le. Team player. A straight shooter (in every sense of the phrase). His critics, who seem to be few, tend to be those who yearn for a more traditional approach to department management, incarceration policies in particular.
Although Neustrom himself is the first to say there is more to be done, today the LPSO is leading the way toward parishwide progress on key issues. At a time when cities across the U.S. are exploding because of poor officer training, he has set the course for a department intent on meeting and exceeding national professional law enforcement standards. As voters, we need to be sure his successor will stay that course. It’s one of the most important votes we will cast this fall.