Baton Rouge’s crime-fighting initiative, BRAVE, officially is expanding into a second ZIP code area: 70802, the area north of LSU that has been the site of a disproportionate number of the city’s violent crimes.
“We want them all to know that (70802) is not just a geographical location,” said BRAVE’s team leader and Baton Rouge police Sgt. Herbert “Tweety” Anny, one of the officials attending a launch ceremony Thursday night at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. “There are people involved in violent behavior. This can affect the whole city.”
The project, which is based on the renowned Operation Ceasefire initiative, began in Baton Rouge with a $1.5 million federal grant in 2012, focusing on the 70805 ZIP code area in north Baton Rouge. A subsequent $1 million grant last year is helping fund BRAVE’s expansion into the 70802 area.
Taken together, the 70805 and 70802 areas are the site of almost half of the city’s violent crime, despite being only 19 of the 75 square miles in Baton Rouge’s city limits.
BRAVE involves pairing law enforcement with community leaders and residents to target those most at-risk of committing crimes and tries to offer alternatives as well as warnings before handing down heightened punishments.
The project compiles data to gauge those most likely to commit violent crimes. The project then combines re-education with harsh jail times for those who break the law despite the project’s efforts.
Though BRAVE already has targeted 70802 tangentially — “call-ins” with those most at-risk involved residents from all over Baton Rouge — the new expansion will consist of more BRAVE police patrols as well as marches, gun buy-backs and cleanup days designed to show residents that law enforcement wants to work with neighbors to lower the community’s crime rate.
Anny said the expansion could not happen soon enough: BRAVE’s office has fielded a large number of calls from residents asking when it would expand into their 70802 area and how they can get involved. At the time, Anny said, there was little they officially could do directly because they lacked the funds.
The Rev. Dr. Herman O. Kelly Jr., pastor of Bethel, announced that the church will serve as a local hub for BRAVE events in the 70802 area. The church is one of the oldest African-American congregations in East Baton Rouge Parish, dating back to the 1860s, Kelly said. It serves a neighborhood struggling with vacant buildings, high unemployment and a lack of youth engagement.
Kelly said the congregation of the church on South Boulevard is excited about BRAVE’s expansion and said he is hopeful the initiative will ease tensions between young African-American men and law enforcement. He said he plans to start cookout events at the church with officers in the coming months.
Kelly envisions painting and drawing classes in the vacant lot across the street from the church, as well as an art event in the evening where vendors can showcase their work. He thinks BRAVE will be able to help with that because “people won’t be afraid to come out at night.”
He also said the nearby Lincoln Theater, which has been undergoing restoration, should provide an uplift for the community.
As the expansion of BRAVE begins, an official involved with the initiative received national recognition for his crime-fighting efforts. Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III and others on Thursday received an FBI nomination for distinguished service to law enforcement at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“I think it’s a huge boost for us,” Moore said of the award. “It’s a recognition that the efforts we’re doing here in Baton Rouge are working, and I think it shows the FBI’s commitment to assist in that regard.”