By Kimberly Vetter
Advocate staff writer
October 23, 2012
When the Baton Rouge Violence Elimination Project was announced in May, it was promoted as a program that would curb violence in the 70805 ZIP code by using statistical data to target criminals in the area and by employing tactics to try to change their behavior.
So far, the main accomplishment of BRAVE has been a handful of felony arrests made by one of two patrol teams dedicated to the cause.
Fifteen of the arrests were of repeat offenders, eight of whom had direct ties to the 70805 ZIP code. The other arrest was drug-related and happened because of information received from people in that area.
Most of the arrests were publicized at a news conference held by the U.S. Attorney’s Office while the other was announced via a news release distributed by the Baton Rouge Police Department.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, one of the main people responsible for creating BRAVE, said the arrests are a positive development in the cleanup of the 70805 ZIP code but are merely a byproduct of BRAVE, which is still in the early stages of development.
“When you see people pitching in to help 70805, it’s BRAVE-related but not necessarily tied to the $1.5 million federal grant the city-parish received last month to run the program,” Moore said.
The BRAVE patrol teams, which have five Baton Rouge police officers and 25 East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputies, “are doing regular police work until we are able to give them specific direction pertaining to the grant,” he said.
That work will come after authorities have conducted their first meeting, dubbed a call-in, with targeted offenders, BRAVE director Herbert “Tweety” Anny said.
During that meeting, authorities will present offenders with two options: Swift and severe punishment if they continue to commit crimes, or changing their ways and seeking help to better their lives, Anny said. If the offenders choose the former, members of the BRAVE patrol teams will find them, arrest them and put them in jail, he said.
In the meantime, the teams will “attempt to establish legitimate relationships with people they serve in the community to create an open line of communication,” Anny said.
Such communication, he said, is what led to the recent BRAVE-related arrests inside and outside the 70805 ZIP code, which is generally bordered by Airline Highway to the north and east, Choctaw Drive to the south and the Mississippi River to the west.
The area has been targeted because of the high number of homicides in the area.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White said the relationships the Police Department’s BRAVE patrol unit has created with people in the 70805 ZIP code also have cultivated tips that have helped solve seven murders.
People in the area “are actually saying they are feeling safer and that they are seeing a change,” he said.
Charles Wallace, pastor of Oasis Christian Church on East Brookstown Drive, which is in the heart of the 70805 ZIP code, said he’s worked in the area for more than 30 years and has seen crime increase and community involvement decrease.
“People don’t want to go outside for fear of getting shot,” he said. “And people don’t want to talk to authorities for fear of retaliation.”
Those attitudes, however, are beginning to change because of the recent arrests made by the BRAVE patrol teams as well as some community outreach initiatives hosted by the church, Wallace said.
“There is a quiet sense of security and relief in the community,” he said. “The word is spreading that you have to pack up and move out if you want to commit crimes.”
Anny said he hopes that sense of security grows as he and his cohorts continue to implement BRAVE, which is designed to break up such networks using the same group violence reduction strategies that have been successfully used by Operation Ceasefire programs in cities such as Boston and Los Angeles.
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 street groups and gangs to communicate three messages:
- 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.
BRAVE initially will target violent offenders as well as drug offenders in the city’s 70805 ZIP code because it accounts for 13 percent of the city’s population but traditionally 30 percent of its homicides.
The project could be implemented later in other areas of the city.
Anny said he hopes to hold the project’s first call-in later this year or at the beginning of next year.
Editor’s Note: The article was changed on Oct. 22 to correct the spelling of Herbert “Tweety” Anny’s last name.