When Baton Rouge’s anti-violence taskforce, BRAVE, cracked down on murders in the 70805 ZIP code in north Baton Rouge, the bloodshed shifted south.
After a year of planning, authorities are now ramping up their efforts in the 70802 ZIP code, including downtown, BRAVE officials said Wednesday at a community outreach meeting at the Downtown Development District.
“We know where the group members are hanging out and that’s where we’re putting our resources,” BRAVE Director Herbert “Tweety” Anny told downtown residents and business owners.
The expansion of the program comes thanks to a $1.5 million federal grant the program landed in 2013 to redeploy the strategies used in ZIP code 70805.
“We saw what worked in 70805 and now it’s time to do the same in 70802,” Anny said.
BRAVE officials have also begun planning how to use a $1 million grant from the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation group, which will overlap in 70805 and 70802, Anny said.
“What we have in place now will be used to secure additional grants,” Anny said. “The success we have will lead to more funding in the future.”
He said the program also recently landed a $500,000 grant to expand the program to the Gardere neighborhood, a violence-prone stretch in the 70810 ZIP code area.
BRAVE targets “known offenders” — usually males under the age of 21 — and brings them in for “call-ins,” Anny said. City-p arish authorities give them three options: enroll in the program, which provides mentoring, a GED program and job placement; disregard the program, but stay out of trouble; or continue their bad behavior and suffer more severe sentencing if they are arrested and found guilty.
“We tell them, ‘If you turn down these services, we’ll come back and target your whole group,’ ” Anny said.
As required by the grants, BRAVE officials each year conduct at least four community outreach events, like the one Wednesday, where law enforcement serves food and interacts with local residents, Anny said. They usually hold meetings almost every month.
“Predominantly black communities here don’t trust law enforcement. That’s the biggest thing we’re missing,” said Benjamin Harrison Jr., BRAVE’s outreach director and pastor at Apostolic Restoration Church at 4224 Beachwood Drive.
That trust, Anny said, is what BRAVE officials seek to build at their community presentations.
“We want to become proactive by establishing a relationship with members of the community,” Anny said. “Once we do that, they’ll be comfortable telling us what they know.”
Melanie Montanaro, 50, Downtown Development Commission member and Beauregard Town resident, said the presentation was important for her because the program has now expanded into downtown Baton Rouge.
“It’s good to be aware of what the program is and what — if any — role we can play as residents,” she said. “If a program like this can make things safer and change even five lives, it’s worth it.”
Follow Matt McKinney on Twitter, @Mmckinne17.