Murders in East Baton Rouge Parish in June came at a disturbingly steady pace, with 11 homicides that don’t even account for negligent killings such as the death of a toddler named Angel Green, who was left inside a hot car June 5.
“I believe a lot of mothers got a wake-up call (last) month,” said Keon Preston, the 22-year-old founder of Together We Stand, Divided We Fall, an offshoot of the organization Stop The Violence in Baton Rouge.
But though the homicide numbers were startling to local residents and even District Attorney Hillar Moore — who said he was disappointed, given recent successes, including 36 consecutive days without killings earlier this year — the homicide rate in East Baton Rouge Parish is in line with that of 2014.
There have been 33 homicides in the parish as of July 1 — the same number as that date last year, according to statistics compiled by The Advocate.
Officials credit strides by law enforcement, including Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination, an initiative started in 2012 aimed at disrupting group violence, sometimes called “gang” violence. BRAVE, patterned after the national crime-reduction program Operation Ceasefire, identifies known criminals involved in groups and lets them know they’re being watched, while offering social services and job alternatives to crime, with the threat of harsh enforcement if they reoffend.
“We were cautioned from day one: If you do have success, do not get away from the model because (crime) will come right back,” said Moore, who believes BRAVE is essential in targeting some 900 adolescents who have been identified as group members in the area and are responsible for a significant proportion of violence.
BRAVE is thought to have contributed to the 20 percent drop from 2012, when the parish saw 83 homicides, to 2013, when there were 66. In 2014, there were 63, which is in line with this year’s rate.
David Kennedy, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the architect behind Operation Ceasefire, said the numbers for the past two years shouldn’t necessarily be seen as the new normal. The killings, he said, could decrease yet.
“It’s now not at all uncommon to find cities that have been going at it for a long time,” said Kennedy, who also is director of the National Network for Safe Communities. “The typical pattern is that they get this big initial reduction and then you get a more gradual long-term decline. Because things are stable right now doesn’t mean things won’t pick up again and continue to get better.”
Both Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux agreed BRAVE has been a success.
“We definitely need to keep that, but we also need to keep up with our street operations and our domestic violence advocacy programs to not let those areas get out of hand,” Dabadie said.
Still, LSU criminologist Edward Shihadeh, who has served as an advisor to BRAVE, thinks law enforcement should keep BRAVE — which only addresses group violence — and expand on it to target other criminals such as repeat domestic violence offenders.
“I think we’ve pretty much saturated what we can do with BRAVE,” he said.
Shihadeh envisions starting a “hot list” of the top 100 area domestic violence offenders who will be visited by law enforcement officers and told a similar message to those targeted by BRAVE: “We’re tracking you, we’re offering you help, and if you don’t cease the violence, you’ll face harsh consequences.”
None of Baton Rouge’s 27 homicides this year were domestic-related, but six out of 52 last year were, according to statistics provided by Baton Rouge police. One of the six homicides that fell within the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office this year was domestic-related, said Gautreaux.
Shihadeh believes domestic violence accounts for possibly 30 percent of overall violent crime in Baton Rouge, but the Baton Rouge Police Department couldn’t verify this number by deadline.
“Some of the people who are most active in crime are not in gangs. Some of these people are very active players,” Shihadeh said.
Moore, Dabadie and Gautreaux said their employees are actively working to curb domestic violence. Dabadie noted Shihadeh’s proposal might pose a challenge in terms of the technology it could require.
Dabadie also pointed out that holding law enforcement as the ones solely responsible for bringing down homicide rates misses the larger societal picture.
“You can’t throw it all on the parents, but you can’t throw it all on law enforcement, and you can’t throw it all on the education system,” he said. “Law enforcement can’t do it alone.”
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.