Five Baton Rouge police officers will hit some of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods Monday in an effort to rid them of criminals and foster relationships with law-abiding residents in the areas.
The officers are part of the Police Department’s newly formed Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination enforcement unit, announced Thursday at a news conference in the Metro Council Chambers downtown.
The unit is part of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project, a new violent crime intervention plan aimed at violent offenders as well as drug offenders in the city’s 70805 ZIP code, an area generally bounded by Airline Highway to the north and the east, the Mississippi River to the west and Choctaw Drive to the south.
Police Chief Dewayne White said members of the enforcement unit are “some of the finest officers in Baton Rouge.”
“There may be some as good,” the chief said. “But, I will say, there are none better.”
The officers selected to be members of the unit are Sgt. Robert McGarner, Cpl. Lorenzo Coleman, Cpl. Troy Lawrence, Officer Brad Bickham and Officer Luke Cowart, White said.
McGarner and the BRAVE director, Baton Rouge police Sgt. Herbert “Tweety” Anny, will oversee the unit, White said, adding that both men are well connected and well liked throughout Baton Rouge.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he has confidence in the officers but warned them that they have a difficult job to do and that they will be tested “not only by the people on the street but by your own officers.”
“This goes against the grain of traditional law enforcement,” Moore said at the news conference. “You aren’t supposed to hold hands out to people you normally arrest.”
Moore said BRAVE will implement the same group violence reduction strategies that have been successfully used by Operation Ceasefire programs in cities such as Boston and Los Angeles.
The premise behind Operation Ceasefire, according to program literature, is that crime can be dramatically reduced when law enforcement, residents and social service providers engage with the street groups and gangs to communicate three messages:
- A law enforcement message that any future violence will be met with clear, predictable and certain consequences;
- A moral message against violence by the right community representatives;
- An offer of help for those who want it.
“This is a tough on crime program,” Moore said. “But for those who want a way out, we will give them a handshake instead of handcuffs.”
Mayor-President Kip Holden called Thursday’s announcement a move from words to action.
“You are watching renewed vigor today,” the mayor said. “For those individuals on the streets who think we’ve been playing all of this time, they will see officers who will not tolerate the foolishness and the harassment of people in our community.”
Law enforcement, however, needs the community’s cooperation, Holden said.
“You are going to have to start talking,” he said.
White said people will talk once they build a trusting relationship with police and that members of the BRAVE enforcement unit will help foster that relationship.
“It’s going to take time,” he said. “But we hope to see a difference in 90 to 120 days.”
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said in an interview after the news conference that his office has used violence reduction strategies similar to BRAVE’s for the past five years and that they’ve been successful.
He said his office’s Special Community Anti-Crime Team is charged with patrolling high-crime areas and has helped reduce violence in several of those neighborhoods. The team enforces the law while encouraging a reciprocal relationship between residents and law enforcement, Gautreaux said.