EBR murder rate down sharply for first half of year

East Baton Rouge Parish saw 31 homicides during the first half of the year — a sharp, 38 percent drop compared with the same period in 2012, records show.

Among those slain: Three young children beaten to death, a woman fatally stabbed by a career violent criminal and a man fatally shot by his own father.

Authorities in East Baton Rouge Parish investigated 50 homicides by July 3 last year and 40 in 2011.

LSU criminologist Edward Shihadeh credits the reduction in large part to the attention placed on street gangs in Baton Rouge, which data showed were the biggest problem-causers in the city, and to community policing strategies.

A previous study identified 30 active street gangs in the parish with more than 500 members and found that a large percentage of area homicides during a two-year span have involved “known gang members” or gang-related violence.

The drop in homicides began in September, which is when the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project began operating. Shihadeh said the effect felt by offenders in the 70805 ZIP code area targeted by BRAVE caused a trickle-down effect to other parts of the city.

Shihadeh said the feeling that law enforcement is done playing around and the penalties for those who continue to break the law will be severe is likely the single biggest reason for the drop in homicides.

“This is a very scientific, data-driven focused deterrent that provides people alternatives, it’s not hug-a-thug, it’s alternatives,” Shihadeh said. “We can help you out, you can get the help or get hit with a hammer. We now know who they are, where they are and who they’re hanging out with.”

The Baton Rouge Police Department has investigated 24 homicides, 11 less than this point last year, and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office has investigated seven, which is half the number it investigated at this time last year.

The Baker and Zachary police departments have not had any homicides in 2013. Baker had one homicide in 2012.

While the number of slayings is down, the clearance rate of homicides is up slightly, from 63 percent last year to 68 percent this year.

The motive for many of the homicides remains unknown. Among cases in which a motive was determined, one was a murder-suicide, at least four were drug related and at least seven appeared to have stemmed from domestic issues.

Three of the domestic violence cases resulted in the death of young children.

“Working any homicide is difficult, but infant deaths are certainly especially difficult for all involved,” said East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks, whose office investigated two of the child deaths.

Targeted patrols in known high-crime areas are also making a difference in combating violent crime, she said.

The ZIP code area historically known as the highest-crime area in the city, 70805, home of the BRAVE Project, has had nine homicides while 70802, traditionally the ZIP code with the second most crime behind neighboring 70805, is second with six.

In 2012, 70802 led the city-parish with 23 homicides and 70805 finished second with 20.

Officials have said 70802 ranks second to 70805 in overall crime and they hope to receive grants to institute the social initiatives accompanying BRAVE in 70805 into 70802 to help combat crime in that area.

The statistics compiled by The Advocate exclude homicides that authorities have classified as negligent, such as the three accidental shooting deaths of children in late January, or are justifiable, such as the shooting of Bradford Etheredge by Baton Rouge police after he attacked two officers with a knife on April 8.

Despite the significant drop in homicides, officials realize their efforts will only go so far and that homicide and violent crime will never be eliminated.

“Homicide and murder is a crime of passion a lot of times,” Baton Rouge Provisional Police Chief Carl Dabadie said. “If you look at the last couple of murders that we’ve had, they’ve been attributed to spur of the moment, get angry, pull out a gun and shoot somebody.”

Dabadie added, “The last couple, we had units in the area that actually even heard the gunshots. Even if you’re sitting in the room with the person at the time, if you don’t know what they’re getting ready to do, there’s no way you can stop it.”

In a city that some say has become inured to the violence, Dabadie cited the improved relations and communication between law enforcement and the community as a major factor in homicides decreasing.

He said people are tired of the violence.

“I believe they’re fed up,” Dabadie said. “They feel like they’re prisoners in their own homes and they can’t even walk out of their door without the fear of somebody shooting, so yeah, I think they’re fed up and I think they’re making those phone calls now.”

Dabadie also said he believes Baton Rouge police street operations that target drugs dealers and prostitution is another factor in homicides declining.

Baton Rouge police spokesman Lt. Don Kelly said the operations are very successful. Between Jan. 1 and March 31, Kelly said, the street operations personnel made 183 arrests, seized 21 guns and seized almost 50 grams of cocaine and 900 grams of marijuana.

The question now is that with the significant drop in crime, how do officials continue to keep the pressure on and crime down.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said authorities hope in the coming years to employ techniques BRAVE uses to target street gangs — such as call-ins and the use of social services — to target drug dealers and domestic abusers.

Shihadeh said other tactics that could be used to further decrease crime in the city-parish would be to reduce long-term incarceration and to establish a misdemeanor jail.

Reducing long-term incarceration rates would save the state money from housing older inmates, and Shihadeh said research has shown that the recidivism rate of older people who served jail time is very low.

The idea of a misdemeanor jail has been thrown around by officials in the past, but never came to fruition.

While officials are cautiously optimistic about the homicide numbers at the this point, they know better than to read too much into them.

“Anytime you’re looking at crime stats, especially murders, it’s extremely important not to read too much into short-term numbers,” Kelly said. “What appear to be short-term significant declines, or increases, don’t always necessarily indicate long-term trends. But clearly we’re encouraged by the direction we seem to be heading since about September of 2012 and doing everything we can to try and make sure it continues.”