Crime up in unincorporated areas of Lafayette Parish

The year-end 2013 crime numbers for unincorporated Lafayette Parish show crime overall increased 9 percent from 2012, with significant increases in robberies and assaults involving guns and other weapons.

The number of homicides investigated actually fell from five in 2012 to three last year, according to figures released by the Sheriff’s Office, while rapes and attempted rapes rose from 21 in 2012 to 26 last year.

“We’re trying to stay up with it,” Sheriff Mike Neustrom said. “We’ve had some increases in certain areas and some reductions in others.”

Neustrom said the year-end results are comparable to those in the city of Lafayette, which also saw a 9 percent increase in overall crime last year compared to the year before.

Categories of crime that fell in 2013 compared to the previous year included arson, which dropped from 17 to 13. The overall violent crime numbers, which include a combination of homicides, forcible rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults, also fell.

But tucked inside some subcategories are numbers that show an alarming year-over-year trend, said Burk Foster, head of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Foster pointed out that the overall number of assaults — which combines aggravated and simple assaults — remained static, showing a decrease of almost 2 percent.

But, Foster said, that total throws in assaults that occurred without the use of weapons and gives a distorted picture.

For example, the number of assaults by people who brandished guns or knives rose dramatically — 21 percent in 2013 — while the number of assaults using no weapons fell from 126 in 2012 to 74 last year, a reduction of over 41 percent.

Robberies, too, rose in 2013, climbing almost 30 percent with 44 reported in 2012 compared to 57 last year.

Foster said he saw a more troubling trend besides the overall increase.

Robberies in which no guns or other weapons were used fell from 18 in 2012 to 11, an almost 29 percent drop. But more people in 2013 got robbed by someone with a gun, from 21 such cases in 2012 to 39 in 2013, according to the report.

“That’s almost double the reported number in the course of one year,” Foster said.

According to the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, Lafayette Parish has 230,847 residents as of 2014. Foster said numbers kept by his department at UL-Lafayette show that one-third of the population, or nearly 77,000 people, live in unincorporated Lafayette Parish.

“Lafayette is a small parish,” he said. “Even in the unincorporated areas you don’t think of it as being really rural,” he said.

He said the rising crime outside the parish’s municipalities could be a consequence of good work by city police in a phenomenon called displacement.

“You drive some of the organized criminal operations out into the rural locales,” Foster said.

Neustrom said his commanders meet at least once a month to review crime data and plan accordingly.

“If we see any major shifts in whatever crime it is … that’s where we allocate resources,” Neustrom said.

“I’m not saying we have everything under control,” Neustrom said. “I’m saying we’re working very hard to keep the crime numbers low.”

He said a robust economy has drawn more residents to the parish, some of whom are responsible for the rise in crime.

“When you compare it to other areas our size, we’re doing pretty well,” he said.

According to a prepared statement that accompanied the crime report, a majority of vehicle burglaries were easy for thieves to pull off because residents left their cars and trucks unlocked.

“Locking a motor vehicle reduces the chances of becoming a victim tremendously, especially if there is nothing in plain view,” according to the release.

“Most criminals exhibit a tendency to walk passed locked cars, preferring to take items from unlocked cars rather than risk breaking glass which might be heard by the residents,” it stated.