Man shot, wounded in 70805 Zip area
BY NAOMI MARTIN
Advocate staff writer
June 23, 2012
“We know it’s going to be like us banging our heads against the wall for a while, but sooner or later - it’s not going to happen overnight - we’re going to get people calling in telling us information.” Sgt. Robert McGarner Jr., one of the leaders of the BRAVE team
Two events took place Thursday night in north Baton Rouge’s crime-plagued 70805 ZIP code — one, the first of its kind; the other, all too common.
Shots rang out and a 24-year-old man was left severely wounded after a shooting near Greenwell Springs and Lobdell Boulevard about 7 p.m., a police spokesman said.
But while Baton Rouge police investigated that shooting, Chief Dewayne White and other top police officials hosted their first community meeting to unveil a new crime-prevention strategy that aims to curb such violence in the neighborhood.
“We’ve got to go in another direction. This is something new,” Lt. Todd Lee told an audience of about 100 gathered at the Delmont Service Center near Plank Road and Hollywood Street.
The crime-prevention plan, called Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination, or BRAVE, will focus on the 70805 ZIP code — an area that accounts for 30 percent of the city’s homicides but only 13 percent of its population.
The success of the program hinges on the ability of the BRAVE unit — made up of five elite officers — to build trust with the community’s law-abiding residents who are currently too afraid to report criminal activity out of fear of retaliation, said Lee, who helped draft the plan.
Acknowledging the long-standing mistrust between the Baton Rouge Police Department and certain parts of the community, Lee urged citizens gathered at the meeting to help spread the word about the force’s new efforts at fostering positive relationships.
“This is the first time we are being proactive and going out into our community,” Lee said. “The wording is important — it’s our community and your police department.”
Lee said the meeting, which began with an opportunity for residents of the crime-plagued community to meet and exchange phone numbers with officers, was the first of many that is aimed at fostering conversations and building relationships.
“This line of communication will allow us to have at least a fighting chance to build our community’s trust,” Lee said.
BRAVE’s community policing tactics — such as going door-to-door and conversing with the public — will eventually spread to every neighborhood in the city, Lee said. Officers on patrol often do not have the time to talk to people who are not involved in an emergency situation.
Sgt. Robert McGarner Jr., one of the leaders of the BRAVE team, said he realizes building trust is going to take time.
“We know it’s going to be like us banging our heads against the wall for a while, but sooner or later — it’s not going to happen overnight — we’re going to get people calling in telling us information.”
McGarner said the department too often neglected the “95 percent” of each neighborhood that is law-abiding, and could potentially help law enforcement curb criminal activity committed by the area’s other “5 percent.”
He said in the 1990s the Police Department had the ability to talk to people about neighborhood problems but officers are now stretched thin and have to rush between emergency calls.
“We got away from that,” McGarner said.
He said better lines of communication and greater trust will help the 95 percent feel more comfortable telling police about criminal activity occurring in their neighborhood and “it’ll be a better day for the Police Department and a better day for the city.”
An audience member, Vernon Sanders Sr., 71, said he was ready to help the police as much as he could to reduce crime.
“They can’t do it all by themselves,” he said. “They need help from the neighborhood folk.”
Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said she was optimistic about the results of the program and thanked Chief White for ushering in “a whole new era for our police department.”