East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark is the latest official to sound the alarm about the high number of homicides in the parish, speaking Tuesday to members of the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish about the topic and what he thinks should be done about it.
“Our community has an issue with homicide,” Clark told the more than 50 people who attended the chamber meeting at Café Americain on Jefferson Highway. “We can’t tolerate this violence.”
Clark, who was elected coroner six months ago, said he recently examined the number of homicides his office has investigated since 2000. That number started to go up in 2006 from about 60 per year to about 80 per year, he said.
When asked what caused the spike, Clark pointed to an increased population due to Hurricane Katrina, which slammed south Louisiana in 2005 and sent an influx of people north looking for new places to live.
So far this year, Clark said, his office has looked into 83 homicides compared with 74 during the same time frame last year. Clark said those numbers include justifiable, negligent and vehicular homicides, which are killings law enforcement doesn’t include in their annual homicide count.
“There’s a good chance we will hit 100 by the end of the year,” he said. “I have great concern over this.”
Issues contributing to the area’s high number of killings, Clark said, include drugs, guns, poverty, illiteracy and the breakdown of the family. Combating these issues, he said, will take aggressive law enforcement and a supportive community that has a no-tolerance attitude toward crime.
The coroner said his office is trying to be a part of the solution by aiding law enforcement agencies with their investigations into suspicious deaths, Clark said. Since becoming coroner, Clark said, he has boosted the number of death investigators at his office from three to seven.
Two of those investigators as well as Clark and his chief of operations, Shane Evans, graduated from the St. Louis University Medicolegal Death Investigator Certification Course, the coroner said. The remaining investigators will graduate from the course in January and March, he said.
Clark said he also has helped law enforcement clear 800 warrants simply by sharing information that allowed law enforcement to delete the deceased from their lists of people with outstanding warrants.
Mike Walker, metro councilman and incumbent Kip Holden’s main rival in the race for mayor this year, attended Tuesday’s chamber meeting and lauded Clark’s accomplishments since becoming coroner, including Clark’s desire to talk about crime.
“We have to stop the violence in this community,” said Walker, who has made crime the main talking point of his campaign. “Since we met last week, two more people have been killed.”
That number increased to at least three on Tuesday when a pregnant woman was gunned down on Madison Avenue during what police believe was a domestic dispute between the woman and her boyfriend.