Parish sees drop in crime

Homicide rate in Jefferson Parish decreases to 4-year low

Jefferson Parish had its lowest homicide rate in four years, and one of the lowest overall crime rates in modern times, Sheriff’s Newell Normand at a news conference Friday.

According to crime statistics, the parish saw a 33 percent decrease in homicides from 2011 to 2012 and a nearly 5 percent decrease in the seven crime categories tracked by the FBI. That overall decrease comes after a slight increase in 2011, and Normand noted it’s the second time in the past three years that the parish has approached the crime rate in enjoyed in 1974. The homicide total is the parish’s second lowest of the past decade and is only bested by 2005 statistics, which were skewed due to Hurricane Katrina.

“We’re very proud to save we’ve had declining multi (crime)-rates for years,” Normand said.

According to crime statistics, Jefferson Parish saw decreases in every crime category including rape, robbery, assaults, burglaries, thefts and auto thefts. The biggest decreases came in homicides, burglaries, auto thefts and robberies.

The parish’s falling homicide rate comes at the same time that the city of New Orleans is looking for signs that it’s getting a handle on its own homicide situation. Jefferson Parish has a population of roughly 432,000, and its 33 homicides give it a homicide rate of 7.63 per 100,000 residents. In comparison, New Orleans recorded 193 homicides in 2012, and has a per capita homicide rate of 56.43. In fact, New Orleans has already recorded two homicides for 2013, both on New Year’s Day, and several shootings.

Normand has long said that homicides are extremely difficult for law enforcement agencies to prevent because they typically involve people making a decision to solve personal disputes in the ultimate fashion. New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas has noted that most homicides involve young men with a grudge, a gun and a desire to use it.

Normand acknowledged that many of the parish’s 107 shootings could have easily become homicides. The parish saw a nearly 11 percent decrease in shootings in 2012 compared to 2011.

“A number of these aggravated batteries or assaults could be a homicide except for the fact that they aren’t very good shots,” Normand said.

Normand attributed the overall drop in crime in part to the declining crime rate nationally. However, he also noted that during his five-year tenure, he’s pushed looking at crime from several angles. His agency isn’t afraid to change course or admit that something isn’t working, he said.

“Our officers give a damn, and they put themselves at risk each and every day,” Normand said. “I cannot tell you how proud I am of this organization as a whole.”

Back in 2006, Jefferson Parish recorded its highest homicide total in more than two decades, with 66 slayings reported. At the time Normand, who was the chief deputy under former Sheriff Harry Lee, spearheaded a program to increase cooperation between the department’s different divisions.

Normand has long promoted the idea that every crime should be approached holistically with different divisions pooling resources and information.

In 2007, the Sheriff’s Office would flood neighborhoods with narcotics officers and patrol officers immediately after homicides, rounding up known offenders in an attempt to shake out information. Those methods contributed to a 33 percent decrease in the homicides from 2006 to 2007, which meant 22 fewer slayings.

In addition, Normand recently has promoted the idea of his Criminal Intelligence Center, which involves law enforcement officers from multiple agencies working together to pool information and provide leads. He’s also pushed the Sheriff’s Office as a key member of the West Bank Major Crimes Taskforce and has repeatedly fought for funding for that group at a local and state level.

“You’ve heard me say that we’re all about information. We’re all about intelligence-based policing,” Normand said.

Normand noted the agency saw its worst crime statistics in the early 1990s and instituted changes in rating arrestees at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center so that dangerous suspects wouldn’t be released due to overcrowding. They’ve also worked in public housing units, with its street crimes division and in partnership with parish politicians.

He also noted that department’s new focus is synthetic drugs and quality of life enforcement, which he called “hidden crimes.”

But, Normand stressed that the parish’s residents have taken an active role in policing, noting that residents helped crack a recent bank robbery investigation and a bar robbery through license plate information and vehicle descriptions.

“We get a lot of good cooperation. We’re fortunate,” Normand said.