Break-ins of occupied homes raise worries on West Bank

Residents of an upscale West Bank subdivision are concerned about two recent home burglaries that occurred while the property owners were home — and despite paid patrols by off-duty police.

The burglaries were reported to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office on Monday morning by residents of Plantation Estates subdivision off Barataria Boulevard in Marrero. Col. John Fortunato, a sheriff’s spokesman, said the incidents happened on Melrose Drive and Seven Oaks Drive.

Residents reported that an unknown number of burglars entered their residences while they were inside and stole electronic devices and other equipment, Fortunato said.

Detectives were able to track one of the stolen electronic devices and arrested two individuals who were found with it.

Fortunato said authorities have not booked those men in connection with the burglaries, but they are being held on unrelated charges.

Investigators were able to obtain a fingerprint from one of the homes, and they are trying to locate the person it belongs to. In the meantime, Fortunato, who lives in the area, said he has discussed the need for increased vigilance with the off-duty patrols and the possibility of additional patrols by sheriff’s deputies.

Charles Miller III, a resident of the subdivision, contacted Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts about the burglaries, noting that residents pay an extra $350 a year to help pay for the patrols and other activities.

In the past, Plantation Estates has had issues with people walking through the community and committing vehicle burglaries, but people inside homes is a new problem, he wrote in an email.

“They are now brave enough to enter the homes while people are sleeping, which is not good at all,” Miller wrote.

He also expressed concern about the possibility of funding being cut for the West Bank Major Crimes Task Force, which is a multi-agency group that handles investigations on the West Bank. The group targets narcotics and violent offenders and has been lauded by local officials for its work.

The task force is funded by both the parish and the state. Last year, the parish set aside $90,000 for the group, but the bulk of its funding comes from the state. Roberts said that funding is currently in jeopardy in Baton Rouge.

Roberts said he plans to introduce a resolution at next week’s council meeting asking the state to maintain funding for the task force, and he encouraged local residents to call their legislators to make the same request.

“We absolutely cannot allow this law enforcement tool to be dissolved,” Roberts said.

He said it feels like the West Bank is at a crossroads, a sentiment others have expressed in recent weeks as well.

Although politicians agree that the West Bank has the most opportunity to future growth, the impending closure of the Avondale Shipyard, reductions at the NOLA Motorsports and the departure of some West Bank carnival groups are serious challenges, Roberts wrote. He said the parish needs to come up with a plan for dealing with these issues and stemming the tide of Jefferson Parish residents fleeing to St. Tammany Parish.

“If we do not admit and recognize the problem, formulate a plan and carry forth the efforts, the issues you raise will only get worse,” Roberts told Miller.

In a later conversation, Roberts said Parish Council members are working on a plan to figure out what’s causing the exodus by residents. That includes looking at which areas in the parish have been the hardest hit by departures and speaking to former residents about why they left.

Roberts wouldn’t give more details on that effort, noting that it’s still underdevelopment. However, he said the parish must take action soon.

“Time is not on our side. The residents we are losing, in particular to St. Tammany, are not citizens we can afford to see leave our parish,” Roberts wrote.