Officials, experts encouraged by significant decrease in killings during the latter part of year
A former Southern University football player was killed on Interstate 110, allegedly shot by a onetime friend who was in the car with him.
A Denham Springs tractor-trailer driver was slain during an armed robbery at a downtown gas station.
And a 16-year-old girl was shot to death. Police say she was killed by a man she refused to have sex with.
These victims are among the 83 people slain in East Baton Rouge Parish last year, two more than the 81 homicide victims parishwide in 2011.
Although more people were killed last year than in 2011, and the number of homicides in the parish has generally been on the rise since 2005, the tide might be turning, LSU sociology professor Edward Shihadeh said.
Unlike previous years, more than half of 2012’s 83 killings, 49, occurred during the first half of the year, leaving the last six months with a significant decrease in homicides.
Almost all of the 15 killings the Sheriff’s Office investigated last year occurred between January and June. During the first eight months of 2012, the Police Department averaged more than seven homicides a month. That average dropped to three during the last four months of the year, bringing the agency’s total to 67, three more than in 2011.
Shihadeh said he’s convinced the dip in homicides during the latter part of 2012 is in large part because of beefed-up law enforcement efforts combined with enhanced community policing initiatives, such as the Baton Rouge Violence Elimination project, a new crime-fighting program focused on the 70805 ZIP code.
“The trend is right,” he said. “If we continue along this path, we could have a good 2013.”
Already this month, however, there have been four unrelated homicides in the parish: one on Jan. 5 and three within a five-hour period on Thursday.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said it’s too early to claim even a small victory, but it looks like changes are occurring, especially in 70805, an area that has seen the highest number of killings in the parish for the past several years, and as a result, became the focus of BRAVE in May.
Officials have said the program will curb violence by using statistical data to target criminals in the area and by employing tactics to change their behavior.
Homicides in the ZIP code — bordered by Airline Highway to the north and the east, Choctaw Drive to the south, and the Mississippi River to the west — decreased significantly in 2012.
Last year, 14 people were killed in the area, which, on average, has seen 20 homicides a year for the past three years.
The number of homicides in the area’s neighboring ZIP code, however, increased. Last year, 23 homicides were committed in the 70802 ZIP code — 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 — making it the ZIP code in the parish, instead of 70805, with the most killings last year.
Shihadeh said he does not believe that crime merely shifted from one ZIP code to another, but that crimes were indeed prevented in 70805, making 70802 look worse.
“Research generally shows a crime prevented is a crime prevented,” he said. “It’s not elbowed to another area.”
Moore said there is no evidence of displacement, and that in other areas of the country where programs such as BRAVE have been deployed, displacement has not occurred.
“Drug dealers and groups cannot just move,” he said. “If they do, they step on existing dealers’ or groups’ toes.”
In addition, he said, 70802 has historically seen the second-highest number of homicides in the parish, and along with 70805, has always been an area of concern.
Regardless, Moore said, “This should not affect our focus.”
“We will stay the course with the BRAVE model and continue to drive homicides down in 70805 because that is where we will have the biggest impact,” he said. “Certainly once the model rolls out, 70802 will become the next area of focus.”
Lt. Don Kelly, the police spokesman to whom Chief Dewayne White referred all questions, said a logical decision was made to start BRAVE in the 70805 ZIP code because it’s the part of town that has been most plagued by crime.
But, Kelly said, the long-term plan is to eventually expand the model to other parts of the city as well. The Police Department’s goal, he said, “is to reduce crime everywhere in Baton Rouge, not simply chase it from one part of the city to the other.”
Kelly added that the Police Department’s newly formed 70805 enforcement team, or BRAVE unit, hit the ground in June and began working closely with residents in that area to establish trust and enhance community involvement.
The network of contacts they’ve developed with residents of those neighborhoods has resulted in information that has led directly to the arrests of several murderers, armed robbers and major drug dealers, he said.
Kelly said officers also worked hard last year to target other high-crime areas, seize illegal weapons and arrest and book misdemeanor violators.
In May, Kelly said, the Police Department revamped its booking process, reducing the time officers are taken out of service when they make an arrest.
As a result, officers were able to make more arrests instead of issuing summonses, he said, adding that “oftentimes arresting someone and removing them from a volatile situation, even on a misdemeanor charge, keeps things from escalating into violence.”
In August, Kelly said, the Police Department launched a street operations program, an overtime program aimed at curbing street-level drug dealing and the violence often associated with it.
So far, the program has resulted in more than 670 arrests and more than 100 guns being taken off the streets, he said.
“No one is claiming that murders dropped solely because of these programs,” Kelly said, adding that violence is a societal problem with a variety of causes, many of which are beyond law enforcement’s ability to control or affect. “But we certainly do believe that our efforts, combined with other enhanced community policing initiatives Chief White has made a priority, have made an impact.”
Two things that didn’t change last year from previous years were the motives for the majority of the killings in East Baton Rouge Parish and the types of people who were slain.
As in past years, the majority of homicides victims in 2012 were young black men. Moore said most homicide victims across the country are of the same demographic.
Thirty-five of the 83 killings in the parish occurred during domestic disputes, ongoing feuds or drug deals. Another three people were slain during armed robberies and three more died in revenge killings. The motives for the remaining 42 homicides are unknown.
Twelve women were slain last year as well as two children, a 2-month-old and an 8-year-old.
Moore said he remains concerned about what seems to be a high number of domestic violence cases in the parish and that such cases continue to be a priority for his office.
With the exception of domestic violence cases, Moore said, most of last year’s homicides were in some way street-gang related, whether the homicides were carried out on behalf of a street gang, or the killer or victim was a street gang member.
Moore defined a street gang as a loosely-organized group of juveniles and young men who identify themselves under one name and have an elevated level of criminal activity. Street gangs, he said, are not nearly as organized as gangs such as the Crips and Bloods, which have a defined leader, pecking order and criminal enterprise.
East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said five of the homicide cases his office worked last year were domestic in nature and that the rest of the cases usually involved people who knew each other.
The domestic cases, Gautreaux said, are difficult to prevent or predict because the victims often won’t cooperate in the prosecution of their boyfriends’ or husbands’ beatings and other crimes that occur before the killing. The sheriff said he will continue to make domestic violence training a top priority for his deputies. He added that he will also maintain the balance between stringent enforcement and reaching out to the people who are most likely to be involved in crime through community work and education.
“We have to maintain our increased patrols and proactive community policing during the peak hours for crime,” Gautreaux said. “We also have to continue our rehabilitative efforts at the prison to try and curb repeat offenders.”
Moore said the entire community needs to get involved and residents need to become more vocal about what is going on in their neighborhoods.
Some of this is occurring because of BRAVE and recent crime-fighting efforts by law enforcement and the faith-based community, he said.
Kelly said the Police Department is continuing its efforts this year and Chief White has already met with judges to urge higher bonds for violent criminals. White also plans to continue to work closely with Moore’s office to target such offenders for strict prosecution and enhanced sentences, Kelly said.
The department recently graduated a police academy and hopes to have at least one, possibly two academies, this year.
“We think the latter months of 2012 indicate that many of our department’s crime-reduction efforts are starting to pay dividends,” Kelly said.
Gautreaux agreed: “I’ve always said that crime is a community issue, and that is true. It will take all of us working together to make a difference.”