BR leaders travel to New York for ideas on reducing violence

Photo provided by EDR District Attorney's Office -- David Kennedy, the architect behind Operation Ceasefire, the national anti-violence program upon which BRAVE is based. Show caption
Photo provided by EDR District Attorney's Office -- David Kennedy, the architect behind Operation Ceasefire, the national anti-violence program upon which BRAVE is based.

Group to implement ideas from N.Y. panel

A group of more than 20 East Baton Rouge Parish law enforcement leaders returned from a trip to New York late Thursday with a laundry list of fresh ideas to reduce violent crime, especially among gangs.

Representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, the Mayor-President’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office, among others, flew to New York Tuesday night for a two-day seminar led by the architect of Operation Ceasefire, a national youth violence reduction strategy upon which the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project is based.

One takeaway from the seminar that some officials say they most look forward to putting into practice involves small teams of law enforcement agents visiting the homes of young people investigators have identified as potential perpetrators or victims of street disputes, the leaders said.

The key is reaching them and offering help before petty arguments explode into gunfire.

The small teams, numbering no more than about six people, would explain the various counseling or faith-based services available to kids caught up in bad situations with the hope of ultimately convincing them to escape a life geared toward violence, said District Attorney Hillar Moore III.

“Bottom line: Put the gun down. Don’t shoot or hurt anybody,” Moore said, referencing both the messages the teams will convey to the young people and the overarching theme of BRAVE.

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux also expressed excitement over the targeted interventions, called “customized notifications” in Operation Ceasefire lingo.

“That could be very effective for us in having that one-on-one contact,” Gautreaux said.

Moore and Gautreaux were among the leaders who took small groups from their offices to the conference, which was dubbed “Ceasefire University — Baton Rouge” and was held at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The college is home to criminologist David M. Kennedy, the mastermind of Operation Ceasefire, which has been implemented in cities ranging from New Orleans to Boston to Oakland, California.

Most cities that receive specialized seminars such as the one Baton Rouge-area officials attended must pay an Operation Ceasefire membership fee that costs upward of $200,000, Moore said.

In addition, to have the seminar in Baton Rouge would’ve cost an extra $75,000, he said.

But Kennedy told Moore that as long as the interested parties in Baton Rouge paid their way to New York, he would host the conference for free, Moore said.

The cost per person for 19 of the 22 people who went on the trip was about $1,400, said Mark Dumaine, chief administrator of the District Attorney’s Office.

The various agencies involved covered about $16,800 of the cost, while BRAVE covered about $9,800. Three of the 22 people, including two State Police representatives and Walt Green, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana, found other ways to pay for the trip, Dumaine said.

In addition to the interventions, Moore said, other ideas officials hope to implement in Baton Rouge include boosting community involvement and improving the relationship between police and residents.

The officials also hope to institutionalize BRAVE methods so progress isn’t lost when elected leaders move on, and they want to find a way to provide real-time crime data to police and deputies on patrol.

Moore said leaders need to do a better job of gathering intelligence from patrol officers.

“They’re the ones that really have the information from the street,” Moore said.

Moore said BRAVE leaders also want to start tracking nonfatal shootings — something that isn’t being done — and they want to educate felons released from prison about their nonexistent gun rights to cut down on the number of felons caught with firearms who end up clogging prisons.

In addition, officials also plan to host more call-ins, where law enforcement leaders invite known gang members to a meeting that doubles as both an opportunity for change and a warning to those who don’t listen.

Gautreaux said the next call-in — officials have held two since BRAVE began in late 2012 — is scheduled for sometime in the coming weeks.

Members from LSU, who crunch crime data for the BRAVE project, and the Baton Rouge Police Department also attended the seminar.

Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said in an email he learned at the seminar that the key to reducing violent crime is constantly evolving to meet the ever-changing practices of criminals.

“Our law enforcement community has learned that our continued effort as one team is imperative to our success,” Dabadie said.

Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.