ZIP code 70805 first target of program
Flanked by top law enforcement officers from across the parish, Mayor-President Kip Holden announced Wednesday the launch of a new program aimed at curbing violence in Baton Rouge.
The program — called the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project — will target violent offenders as well as drug offenders in the city’s 70805 ZIP code, Holden said at a news conference held downtown in the Metro Council chambers.
The roughly 3-square-mile area houses only 13 percent of the city’s population but is where 30 percent of the city’s homicides and 40 percent of Baton Rouge’s gun assaults occur, the mayor said. The area also generates 25 percent of the Police Department’s calls for service.
“We are seeking to attack violence and the drug trade in ZIP code 70805 the same way a medical team would attack an epidemic of influenza of some other disease,” Holden said. “We are going to use scientific data to identify the infected areas, then take steps to treat it and keep it from spreading.”
The Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project will implement the same group violence reduction strategies that have been successfully used by Operation Ceasefire programs in cities such as Boston and Los Angeles, Holden said.
The premise behind Operation Ceasefire, according to program literature, is that crime can be dramatically reduced when law enforcement, residents and social service providers engage with the street groups and gangs to communicate three messages:
- A law enforcement message that any future violence will be met with clear, predictable and certain consequences;
- A moral message against violence by the right community representatives;
- An offer of help for those who want it.
In Baton Rouge, Holden said, project officials will meet with known violent offenders and drug offenders, tell them they know about their criminal behavior, advise them of the consequences they will face if they continue such behavior, and offer opportunities that will help them abandon their criminal lifestyle.
Baton Rouge Police Sgt. Herbert “Tweety” Anny will lead the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project and retired High Point, N.C. Police Chief Jim Fealy will provide technical assistance, the mayor said.
Fealy helped implement a successful drug market intervention strategy similar to Ceasefire in his city. Anny is a 22-year veteran of the Baton Rouge Police Department who was recently assigned to the parish’s Violent Crime Unit working with youth and gang violence.
Anny said the violence elimination project is an unprecedented opportunity to positively impact the people who live in all areas of Baton Rouge, not just those who have homes and businesses in the 70805 ZIP code.
Unlike conventional law enforcement strategies, Anny said, the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project will identify the underlying problems causing violence and attempt to reach out to those who are responsible for committing it.
“We intend to show these people mercy,” he said. “We are not going to condone their behavior, but identify their problems and offer them help.”
If they don’t take the help that is offered and continue to commit acts of violence, however, law enforcement will act swiftly and appropriately, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said.
“We will be waiting, and we will be ready,” he said.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White agreed and said that in addition to dedicating Anny to the effort, he will soon deploy a team of officers dedicated to developing relationships in the 70805 ZIP code.
“We have to have a relationship with the people in that community,” he said. “We have to build a bond of trust with them in order to combat the crime that is going on there.”
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said that in addition to backing from law enforcement and local government, project organizers have the support of the faith-based community, business and industry, social service agencies and nonprofit organizations and the academic, educational and recreation community.
Moore said he believes violent crime in the city can be reduced by at least 15 percent through these partnerships.
“It won’t happen overnight,” he said. “But, eventually, it will make a substantial difference.”
Alvin Herring, the director of the Working Interfaith Network, said Baton Rouge’s religious community is dedicated to making the anti-violence effort successful.
“We may have abrogated our responsibility in the past but not any longer,” said Herring, who helped implement an Operation Ceasefire program in Richmond, Calif., two years ago. “Clergy members are coming together all across this community, standing up with their congregations and beginning to say they are ready to work to make this community a safer place.”
Initial funding for the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project is coming from the city-parish. The Metro Council dedicated $150,000 to the project last week. Additional funds or in-kind services could be allocated if necessary, said John Carpenter, Holden’s chief administrative officer.
“We are planning on providing what is necessary,” Carpenter said. “We are going to make this work.”
The city-parish also is pursuing a $1.5 million grant to implement the project, Holden said. If approved, the grant will provide up to $500,000 per year and would go toward violent crime research and data analysis, caseworkers and support staff.