Authorities encouraged by response of first ‘call-in’
Of the 47 suspected gang members invited to the BRAVE project’s first “call-in,” 38 decided to attend the meeting with law enforcement, community agencies and community leaders Wednesday night, officials said at a Friday news conference.
Many of those who came were juveniles, and some brought parents, said Baton Rouge Police Sgt. Herbert “Tweety” Anny, the BRAVE Project team leader.
BRAVE is a community-policing based effort initially targeted to curb violent crime in the 70805 ZIP code, an area that has seen, on average, 20 homicides a year for the past three years. BRAVE is based on the nationally acclaimed Operation Ceasefire, which has been credited with helping reduce violent crime in other cities across the country.
“These were representatives of groups in our community that are causing the violence,” Anny said. “We don’t have gangs like in L.A., Oakland or Chicago, but we have groups causing violence.”
The 38 who attended the meeting were treated to a one-hour scripted presentation from Baton Rouge city police officers, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, District Attorney Hillar Moore, U.S. Attorney Don Cazayoux and others, Anny said.
“They were offered three choices,” Anny said. “One, they could take advantage of the resources we were offering,” which includes mentorship, education and substance abuse counseling. The second choice is to stop committing acts of violence and “just go home,” and the third is to continue in their violent ways, he said.
Since the Wednesday meeting, five of those invited to the meeting have called BRAVE headquarters asking how to get help, Anny said.
“In other cities, very seldom did anybody even show up to the call-in,” he said. Officials were “very encouraged” that five have already called in asking for help, he said.
Phillip Deprato, a Baton Rouge Police Department statistician, said that while it is too early to judge the results of the project, violent crime numbers are down.
He said violent crime has been reduced by 40 percent from the March 1, 2012, to Feb. 28, 2013, period in the 70805 ZIP code, an area generally bordered by Airline Highway to the north and east, Choctaw Drive to the south and the Mississippi River to the west. In the city of Baton Rouge, it was down 47 percent, and down 18 percent in areas covered by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, Deprato said.
Homicides were averaging three per month since September, a 50 percent reduction from the monthly averages before that, he said.
“Our focus area is having an impact far beyond the city,” Deprato said.
Provisional Police Chief Carl Dabadie said the BRAVE Enforcement team has already made more than 280 arrests and removed 65 guns from the streets from June to the end of December.
“The community is the real winners in all of this,” he said. “With their help, we have been able to achieve all of these goals that we set.”
One of the presentations at the call-in was by Renee Pete, whose son, Charles Okafor, was killed in 2007.
“My son was killed because he had his boys’ back,” she said Friday, referring to his allegiance to his friends. Pete said she told the attendees on Wednesday: “Don’t put your mother through what I went through.”
District Attorney Hillar Moore said some of those who attended the call-in were currently in jail.
“About 10 or 15 are incarcerated,” he said. Two are in state custody and some came from juvenile detention, he said.
None of the five who have called for help is currently in jail, Anny said.
A second call-in is planned later this year, Anny said. Project leaders may invite some of the same people to that one, he said.
“It depends on how effective this one is,” he said.
The Police Department hopes to be able to expand the BRAVE project to the 70802 ZIP code area, Anny said. That area, which is adjacent to the 70805 ZIP code area, 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.
“We are trying to get additional resources,” Anny said. “But we must see a sustained reduction in the 70805.”