The number of murders in East Baton Rouge Parish declined in 2014 compared with the previous year, albeit ever so slightly, in accord with a continuous push by local law enforcement leaders to reduce Baton Rouge’s stubbornly high murder rate.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 63 homicides occurred in the parish in 2014, down from 65 in 2013. The total generally reflects deaths classified as homicides under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting standards. The figure does not include accidental, justifiable or negligent killings.
Although the decrease was minuscule compared with the previous year, killings happened significantly less than in 2012 and the few years before then, when the murder total never fell below 80.
Hillar Moore III, the parish’s district attorney, expressed guarded optimism about the decline.
Ever since the creation in 2012 of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project, a collaborative effort aimed at reducing violent crime, particularly among teens in high-crime areas, the total number of homicides has dropped by more than 20 percent.
“We’re pleased that the number has remained significantly below our baseline of 2012,” Moore said. “We’d like to continue to see reductions in the year to come.”
He was particularly proud of the reduction in killings involving members of local gangs, which most law enforcement officials refer to as “groups,” mostly because of the tendency for the factions to be smaller and less organized than traditional gangs.
While at least half a dozen murders in 2014 involved people with apparent ties to local groups, Moore said, the figure represents a decline of group-involved killings in previous years.
The vast majority of murders in 2014 involved a robbery or drugs, Moore said.
Most of them happened inside Baton Rouge’s city limits. Despite the decrease in parishwide killings, the Baton Rouge Police Department handled about 10 percent more murders in 2014 than in 2013.
According to statistics compiled by The Advocate, the BRPD handled 52 of the 63 murders.
Among the deaths not included for classification purposes was the death of Bessie Looney, an 82-year-old woman who was found dead inside her home in September after apparently being neglected by her family members, police said. Looney’s mother and daughter were charged in December with manslaughter.
There were other deaths not included in The Advocate’s total, too, such as the death of Guy Koontz Jr., 42, who died of a heroin overdose in February.
Police arrested Marc Roussel, 33, on a count of second-degree murder after Roussel admitted to injecting Koontz with the heroin. But a grand jury declined to indict Roussel in July on charges of murder or manslaughter.
Three young children were among the homicide victims in 2014, including 2-year-old Da’Laijah Smith, whose recent death — a result of blunt force trauma to much of her body — was ruled a homicide on Wednesday. Police arrested Smith’s mother, 21-year-old Candice Smith, earlier this week on a count of second-degree cruelty to juveniles; however, the count was upgraded to first-degree murder following the results of Wednesday’s autopsy.
The other two children — Terrez Coleman, 7, and Jay’v’une Bergin, 5 — died within a few days of each other in August. Coleman was fatally shot while he and his family were driving home at night from a family reunion, and Bergin died from blunt force trauma injuries.
Coleman’s killer has not been identified, and police arrested Bergin’s father in his son’s death.
Coleman’s death was among the few that occurred outside the city limits. Only eight of the 63 homicides fell to the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, which handled twice as many homicides in 2013.
“I think because of what we’ve been doing with stringent enforcement, community outreach and new initiatives like BRAVE, we are seeing a decrease in violent crimes,” said Sheriff Sid Gautreaux. “One homicide is too many, but I’m pleased to see such a decrease in our areas of service.”
Although 2014’s murder total represented a steep drop from totals in recent years, the city of Baton Rouge’s murder rate remains higher than most other cities of comparable size.
According to FBI data, cities with 100,000 to 250,000 people have an average murder and “non-negligent manslaughter” rate of 5.6 per 100,000 residents. Baton Rouge’s population hovers around 230,000 people.
In 2013, Baton Rouge’s murder rate was 21.3. In 2014, it climbed to about 23 per 100,000 residents.
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter @_BenWallace.