Researchers: BRAVE effort reducing crime

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- After the presentation, Baton Rouge police Sgt. Herbert 'Tweety' Anny, center foreground, talks Tuesday with Cecile Guin, left, director of the Office of Social Services, Research and Development at LSU, and Juan Barthelemy, right, assistant professor in LSU's College of Human Sciences and Education, School of Social Work. LSU researchers outlined their involvement in the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project and discussed how their data supports law enforcement's efforts.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- After the presentation, Baton Rouge police Sgt. Herbert 'Tweety' Anny, center foreground, talks Tuesday with Cecile Guin, left, director of the Office of Social Services, Research and Development at LSU, and Juan Barthelemy, right, assistant professor in LSU's College of Human Sciences and Education, School of Social Work. LSU researchers outlined their involvement in the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project and discussed how their data supports law enforcement's efforts.

The rate of violent crime in Baton Rouge has fallen 16 percent since the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project began last year, LSU researchers reported Tuesday.

That includes a 36 percent decrease in the yearly homicide rate and a 45 percent decrease in the monthly homicide rate, said Ed Shihadeh, a sociology professor who coordinates the Crime and Policy Evaluation Research Group at LSU.

“This is probably a bad time in Baton Rouge to be a criminal,” Shihadeh said at a news conference. “In the 20 years that I’ve been in Baton Rouge, I’ve never seen a wider array of resources brought to bear on the problem of crime in the city.”

The BRAVE initiative, launched in June, is a community-policing effort that aims to curb violent crime and disrupt gang activity. The effort, based on the nationally acclaimed Operation Ceasefire, has focused in large part on the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the 70805 ZIP code. The area is generally bordered by Airline Highway to the north and east, Choctaw Drive to the south and the Mississippi River to the west.

Several known gang members identified through the project recently attended a “call-in” with local law enforcement authorities and community leaders, in which they were warned of the perils of living a life of crime and offered a way out.

Though he has been reluctant to attribute the recent downturn in murders solely to BRAVE, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III noted the parish has had 16 homicides so far this year — 10 fewer than this time a year ago.

“We’re really pleased that we are where we are,” Moore said, “but by far, we have a long way to go.”

LSU researchers have assisted law enforcement by identifying “major offenders” and their gang affiliations, analyzing and mapping violent crime patterns and tracking crime rates. For example, Shihadeh said, researchers determined that the peak hours for violent crime are between about 5 or 6 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Such details help officers know when it’s best to allocate resources, he said.

“This is an anti-crime effort that’s not by intuition, not by gut feeling, but by the numbers,” Shihadeh said.

Tracey Rizzuto, an assistant professor at LSU, said she has used social networks to identify trends and relationships among about 30 area gangs.

“This data has the capability to go to the individual level for law enforcement who are interested in identifying individuals as part of a legal investigation,” she said. “But the strength of this approach really lies in the fact that it marries comprehensive data with cutting-edge analytic tools and strategic law enforcement.”

Baton Rouge police Sgt. Herbert “Tweety” Anny urged residents to become more involved in the BRAVE effort “by calling and sharing information about what you know about disputes ongoing in the community, before they escalate into acts of violence.”

While the much of the focus for the BRAVE Project will remain on the 70805 ZIP code, city-parish officials say they plan to begin implementing lessons learned there to the neighboring 70802 ZIP code. The area is generally is bordered by Choctaw Drive to the north, the Mississippi River and Nicholson Drive to the west, LSU to the south, and North Foster Drive, North Street and Park Boulevard to the east.

Moore has said 70802 ranks second to 70805 in overall crime in Baton Rouge.