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The Lafayette Parish region of south Louisiana was settled by French-speaking Acadians in the mid-1700s. The British had driven them from Nova Scotia for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the English Crown. The Acadians were joined by another group of settlers called Creoles, descendants of African, West Indian, and European pioneers. At the time of the migration, Louisiana was under Spanish rule and authorities welcomed the new settlers.
Lafayette began as Petit Manchac in the mid-1700s when the immigrants flocked to the point where the Old Spanish Trail crossed the Vermilion River. In 1821, Acadian refugee Jean Mouton formally designed Lafayette, originally known as Vermilionville, with St. John Church in the center.
In 1823, the legislature created Lafayette Parish from a portion of St. Martin Parish and named it after Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette was a French general visiting the country at the time. Louisiana is the only U.S. state divided into parishes instead of counties. This original division matched jurisdictions of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1840, Lafayette Parish was rocked by an abortive slave insurrection. After 1840, the attention and energy of local law enforcement personnel was focused on maintaining order among the slave population. As a consequence, many white criminals, particularly petty thieves and rustlers preying on the area's large, but poorly supervised herds of cattle, wreaked havoc on law-abiding citizens. Yet, when these criminals were brought before the parish courts, public prosecutors could rarely obtain a conviction because of the outlaws' ability to intimidate the jurors.
By 1859, criminal activity in and around Lafayette Parish had become insufferable, prompting the organization of vigilante committees. The criminals were quickly hunted down, flogged and made to leave the state. Those refusing to leave were hanged. Vigilantes soon took similar action against persons who for various reasons were deemed undesirables by the local propertied classes. On September 3, 1859, 600-armed vigilantes surrounded a fortified farmhouse occupied by victims of vigilante justice. Different accounts of the incident were offered by vigilante and anti-vigilante forces, however, evidence showed that one man was flogged to death, several were beaten to death, and others were shot as they fled. An additional eighty victims were reportedly transported to Lafayette Parish, near present-day Scott, where they were tried and convicted "by Judge Lynch." In late September 1859, Governor Robert C. Wickliffe was compelled to renew his order to disband the comites de vigilance (vigilante committees). The vigilantes reluctantly complied only when threatened with military action by the Governor.
The community prospered until the region was nearly destroyed by yellow fever and the Civil War. In 1881, when the railroad was extended from New Orleans to Houston, the area again prospered. The town's name was changed to Lafayette in 1884.
In 1940, oil companies began to establish offices in Lafayette because of its central location to oil activities. Today, Lafayette is a center of gulf oil and gas industry.
Beginning with his election in 1960, Sheriff W. E. Harson instituted the Parish’s first departmentalized Sheriff’s Office. He was also the first Lafayette Sheriff to emphasize training, as he required his personnel to attend special training courses at L.S.U. Sheriff Harson also instituted the first boat patrol on the Vermilion River and the first vehicular rescue unit equipped with resuscitator, tools and a radio.
Sheriff Carlo Listi, elected in 1968, continued the progress started by Sheriff Harson, by transforming the Sheriff’s Office into one of the most efficient, best-equipped, and hardest-hitting law enforcement agencies in the state. Sheriff Listi insisted on a constant patrol system over the entire parish as well as the most modern equipment to protect his deputies. Sheriff Listi organized P.I.L.O.T., a Police Integrated Logistical Operations Team, which gained national recognition. The purpose of P.I.L.O.T. was to afford the most efficient methods possible for rescue work and emergencies pertaining to law enforcement. Sheriff Listi maintained an “Angel of Mercy Vehicle”, an emergency rescue unit for the sole purpose of saving lives in highway accidents, fires, floods, hurricanes, and other disasters.
In 1979, Lafayette Parish pioneered the creation of a 9-1-1 system for its area. House Bill 480 of 1979, authored by Representatives LeBlanc, Bares, and Thompson and handled by Senators Mouton and Champagne on the Senate side, established the first Communications District in the State of Louisiana for the purpose of establishing and maintaining an emergency telephone service for Lafayette Parish. This enactment, which became Act #788 of 1979, set the precedent for a 9-1-1 system with each Communications District boundaries being based on the geographical boundaries of each of the sixty-four parishes in Louisiana.
Sheriff Donald Breaux became sheriff in 1984 and continued the work of his predecessors. Sheriff Breaux continued to upgrade the equipment and technology of the Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Breaux instituted a vehicle tracking system for his patrol vehicles to insure efficient dispatching to calls for service, as well as becoming part of the 800 MHZ trunking system for more reliable intra- and interagency communications. Sheriff Breaux became the first Sheriff in Louisiana to have a jail nationally accredited when it received accreditation by American Correctional Association on August 5, 1991.
Sheriff Michael Neustrom, elected in 2000, continued the technological advancement of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office by upgrading the computer system and intra-agency communication. He also implemented programs such as the High School Law Enforcement Academy and the After School Tutoring program, in conjunction with the Lafayette Parish School Board, helped fight juvenile delinquency and assist the community. In 2012 Sheriff Neustrom spearheaded the creation of the Lafayette Criminal Justice Committee. The CJCC brings the leading criminal justice and law enforcement stakeholders to the table to jointly discuss the most effect ways of addressing public safety.
Today the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office is lead by Sheriff Mark T. Garber. Sheriff Garber was elected in 2015, and was sworn into office on July 1, 2016.