‘Major crime’ down in BR in ’12

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Violent crimes offset in statistics

Murders, rapes and robberies increased in Baton Rouge last year, but the city saw an overall decrease in “major crimes” when compared with 2011, according to figures released Monday by the Baton Rouge Police Department.

Property crimes dropped 4.66 percent, the statistics show, while violent crimes against persons increased by 1.62 percent. Those categories combined accounted for a 3.65 decrease in “major crimes,” furthering what police described as a long-term downward trend.

Overall, “serious crime” in Baton Rouge has dropped for nine of the past 12 years — including a 33 percent decrease since 2000, even as the city’s population has grown, the Police Department said in a statement.

Major crimes as defined by the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program include murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson.

The numbers released Monday only detail crimes committed inside the city limits.

“When you step back and look at the big picture and the long-term trend line, it’s encouraging,” said Lt. Don Kelly, a police spokesman. “Most people have a tough time believing that, but the numbers are there and they show it.”

The Police Department’s clearance rate fell from 22.2 percent to 18.61 percent last year, but officials noted that figure remains above the national average of 17.9 percent for cities of comparable size. While the city saw a 9.34 percent drop in burglaries, murders increased by more than 3 percent, from 64 in 2011 to 66 in 2012.

Murders represent the “true indicator of violence in any city,” LSU sociology professor Edward Shihadeh said.

The “good news” for Baton Rouge, Shihadeh said, is that more than half of last year’s killings occurred in the first half of the year.

The Police Department averaged more than seven homicides a month during the first eight months of 2012, but that average fell to three over the last four months.

“The national trend on violent crime has been a slight downward trend for the last four or five years, and what we’ve seen (in Baton Rouge) is an increase and a fairly dramatic rise,” Shihadeh said. “It’s only beginning to go down now because of fairly concerted efforts.”

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said no single agency or initiative can take sole credit for the decrease in killings late last year, but said he believes it is due in part to community outreach efforts and the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project.

While the number of homicides declined late last year, police investigated eight homicides within the city limits last month and one killing so far in February that Moore said would be counted as “justifiable” and not a murder under FBI Uniform Crime Reporting.

“If this trend continues,” Shihadeh said, “we’re probably going to see a drop (in murders) this year.”

The increase in violent crimes against persons included a 25 percent jump in rapes — 51 were reported in 2011 compared with 64 in 2012 — and a 15.68 percent increase in robberies.

Shihadeh said he is always “suspicious” of rape statistics because of the reluctance victims have in reporting them, which can skew the actual figures.

Racheal Hebert, executive director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response Center, said she has noticed an increase in reporting, which she attributes to her organization raising awareness and providing victims a support system.

“I don’t necessarily think that more rapes are happening,” Hebert said. “But we know in a city our size that there are a lot more sexual assaults happening than are being reported to the police.”

Property crimes — burglaries, larceny, arson and motor vehicle theft — fell by 4.66 percent, according to the figures.

Kelly said that decrease could be attributable in part to advances in technology.

“We regularly are making arrests based on DNA hits of burglary suspects, which was unheard of 10 years ago,” Kelly said.

Shihadeh said the decreases could also be a reflection of economic decline.

“Ironically, a decline in economic activity can actually cause a slight decline in property crime, especially when we’re talking about larceny and theft,” Shihadeh said. “Less shops, so less shoplifting.”

As for the department’s decline in solving major crime cases, Shihadeh noted that clearance rates are a function of the underlying crime rate.

The department’s clearance rate for murders and non-negligent manslaughters came to about 60.6 percent, according to the figures, just short of the national average of 62.5 percent.

“If the (crime) rate were really low, police would have plenty of time and plenty of resources to solve the crimes,” Shihadeh said. “But when you’ve got people coming in and murdering at this frequency, it’s going to make the clearance rate look just a little bit worse because there’s somebody feeding the assembly line all the time.”