Back in the 1970s in the Eden Park area, “Project Pride,” an effort started by then-East Baton Rouge councilwoman Pearl George, rallied the crime-plagued community.
The effort addressed loitering, littering, drinking and crime.
Then-sheriff Al Amiss deployed a special team of deputies to work to earn the residents’ trust.
“They didn’t go in there with their hands on their guns,” said Reginald Brown, a member of that team who now serves as the city’s constable. “They went in there with the idea of establishing communications.”
Crime went down in the area as more people believed in the movement, Brown said. But Project Pride faded after the Sheriff’s Office encountered budget problems in the 1980s.
“When Project Pride went out, in came crime, in came drugs,” Brown said.
Now more than 40 years later, a new community policing project, BRAVE (Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination) aims to foster relationships so residents who know of crime happening in their neighborhood will call police.
BRAVE is targeting the 70805 ZIP code. That area — bordered by Airline Highway to the north and the east, Choctaw Drive to the south and the Mississippi River to the west — accounts for 13 percent of the city’s population but 30 percent of its homicides.
The Police Department is dedicating five officers and the Sheriff’s Office 25 deputies for the project.
“For the first time, we are reaching out to the community,” said deputy Lt. Todd Lee, who helped draft the BRAVE plan.
As with any change, there is bound to be skepticism among officers, BRAVE leader Sgt. Herbert “Tweety” Anny said.
In June, Anny began giving weekly classes to officers on creating positive community interactions.
To motivate the officers, Anny tells this story:
A few months ago, a sergeant pulled over a driver for a broken taillight.
The driver, who said he had long been harassed by police officers, felt the sergeant who pulled him over treated him with respect.
It turned out the man’s relative had secretly recorded an accused murderer’s confession on an iPhone.
“You treated me like a man. I can tell you who killed Justice Thompson,” he told the officer, Anny said.
Erick Scott, 21, 1259 Columbus Dunn Drive, was arrested April 24 in the shooting of 17-year-old Thompson after witnesses came forward with information, Baton Rouge police have said.
BRAVE sounded familiar to Caulette Jackson, who experienced a similar program in the Gardere area.
Jackson, a practicing attorney, grew up on Keel Avenue near Gardere Lane, an area that used to be one of the city’s deadliest neighborhoods. She now lives off O’Neal Lane but is still involved in community efforts in the Gardere area.
Jackson said she remembers neighbors who were scared of deputies and ran into their homes when authorities arrived in their neighborhood. The distrust skyrocketed in 1992 when Chauncey Thomas, a friend of Jackson, was shot and killed by a deputy, who successfully claimed self-defense in the shooting.
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux first took office in 2007 with a vision to get to know the people who lived in the area, Jackson said. Gautreaux established a substation on Burbank Drive right by Gardere Lane and set up an array of community programs, earning the trust of many in the neighborhood, Jackson said.
“When somebody’s calling police, they’ll tell them, ‘This person did it.’ They’ll point them out,” Jackson said.
Gautreaux said the efforts have worked, and he believes that BRAVE will work because it follows a pattern similar to the Gardere plan.
But there’s still work to do in the Gardere area.
“Do we still have things happening down there? Yes,” he said. “But we don’t have near what we had before we started these things.”
Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle grew up in Eden Park in the Project Pride days and her district includes the 70805 ZIP code.
“There were officers that people trusted,” she said of Project Pride. “They’ve lost that, in my opinion.”
Marcelle said she has faith in BRAVE because it will bring together many people and agencies to examine problems and form relationships.
The Rev. Ronald Williams, pastor at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in the 70805 ZIP code, said it’s a good first step when police say they’re trying to make an effort, but until people see that effort face-to-face, nothing will change.
“If the city police would address the population with a positive attitude, a real sense of compassion and concern without shining lights on it — it may take some time for that paradigm to take place, but it will — the attitudes of the people will have to change,” he said.