A data-driven crime fighting strategy originally hatched in New York City arrived Tuesday in East Baton Rouge Parish with the launch of a program designed to focus the parish’s various law enforcement agencies on tackling crime in particular neighborhoods.
The Crime Strategies Unit, created by District Attorney Hillar Moore III, will knit together work by prosecutors, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, criminologists and the National Guard to identify crime patterns and individual criminal troublemakers in the area. But Moore said the unit will also tap city resources, education officials and social services providers to help address more generic resident complaints in the targeted neighborhoods — from potholes to unkept lots.
The new unit, to be housed at the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters, is “one of the most exciting things we’ve ever done,” Moore said at a news conference to announce the effort. The effort will involve work from most of the parish’s law enforcement agencies, with Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, U.S. Attorney Walt Green, Maj. Gen. Steve Dabadie of the National Guard, and other officials attending the news conference.
Unlike the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination program, another multi-agency crime initiative begun a few years ago, the CSU will not focus on gang members, although it will tackle some of the same geographic areas.
The new effort is expected to use crime data analysis and geo-coding to zero in on crime in the 70802 and 70805 zip codes, as well as two large apartment complexes in the southeastern portion of the parish. BRAVE, which focuses on violent crime and is partially credited with bringing down murders in Baton Rouge by 26 percent in its first year, will continue to operate, Moore said.
Two assistant district attorneys and one assistant U.S. attorney will be assigned to the unit, each overseeing operations in one of the three areas. Moore said the prosecutors won’t be trying cases in court. Instead, Moore said, “they’ll be out in the community talking to residents, community stakeholders, preachers, city councilmen, whoever is out there that has a business, trying to find out how we can make the community safer and better.”
The program borrows from one started by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who put together his own unit shortly after he assumed office in 2010. Moore handed out printouts of a 2014 New York Times Magazine article, which called the initiative a “‘Moneyball’ Approach to Crime,” referring to Michael Lewis’ bestselling 2003 book, “Moneyball,” about Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics’ use of advanced statistics to evaluate ballplayers.
Moore spoke admiringly of Vance’s strategy, which were referred to as the “model ministry of criminal justice” in the article.
The idea is to create an official forum for different law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, analysts and community stakeholders to share crime intelligence, rather than each organization looking only at its own statistics. That’s how the CSU would differ from CompStat, a data analysis method pioneered by the New York Police Department already used in Baton Rouge, in which information stays largely within one agency, Moore said.
“Conceptually, I’ve been screaming about this since early on,” said LSU Criminologist Ed Shihadeh, who will help oversee data collection and analysis by seven student interns dedicated to the program.
Moore and Shihadeh said the students and National Guard analysts would work together to produce a comprehensive picture of crime patterns in each targeted area. That analysis should help point out trends — such as high-crime locations or times when crimes occur — and also help prosecutors zero in on individuals driving crime in the communities.
“We’re for the most part going to be looking at those particular areas to find out who’s being really active right now, what groups are causing trouble, at what particular dates and times. It’s more of a deeper look at that particular locale than we can give on a bigger scale,” Moore said.
Intelligence gathered on the ground and compiled by analyzing neighborhood-level crime statistics will help prosecutors in his office evaluate defendants and decide when to throw the book at an offender and when to steer them into diversion programs, Moore said. If community members point to particular individuals as a problem in the area, Moore said prosecutors will look to bring charges even for relatively minor offenses. “We’re going to give more time to those folks that are giving us the most trouble,” Moore said.
Although the new unit won’t require any additional budget allocations, it will mean that manpower from several agencies will be diverted from their regular duties. Along with the federal and state prosecutors, three district attorney investigators and two National Guard intelligence analysts will be assigned to the CSU. While BRPD officers and sheriff’s deputies won’t be assigned to the unit, Moore said the unit will work with law enforcement officers in the areas.
The program will regularly meet with ministers, homeowner associations, school officials and other community members, as well as the deputies and patrol officers on the streets, to identify patterns and problems, Moore said.
Following a ribbon cutting at the unit’s new offices, Mark Dumaine, the chief of administration for the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office, said diverting two prosecutors to the unit may stretch resources, but should pay off in the long run.
“It will mean we will have holes in our office, but if they can help reduce the violent cases coming in,” it should reduce the caseload of the whole office, he said.
U.S. Attorney Walt Green said that fighting violent crime wasn’t a traditional mission of federal prosecutors but that his office was happy to contribute to the effort if it meant preventing murders in Baton Rouge.
“This is such an important project that we think it’s important to divert resources to help reduce violent crime in Baton Rouge,” Green said.