With the death Thursday of a woman who was shot earlier this week by her boyfriend, the number of killings in East Baton Rouge Parish hit a record number, according to the FBI's crime statistics and records maintained by The Advocate.
Authorities identified the victim as 34-year-old LaQuetra Pidgeon.
Police have said that Pidgeon was shot by her boyfriend, 29-year-old Daniel Johnson, who then shot and killed himself. Johnson died in Pidegon's Banyan Trace Drive home and Pidgeon died in a hospital two days later.
Her death marks a record high of 97 homicides in one year for East Baton Rouge Parish with about three weeks still remaining before the end of 2017, according to records maintained by The Advocate.
The previous record for the most intentional and unjustified killings in the parish was 96 in 2007, according to the FBI's uniform crime report statistics.
"It has been an unusual year," said East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III. "We really believe that this is a peak and not a trend."
However, he said his office, along with other local law enforcement officials, are still working to understand what might have lead to the increase in killings this year over previous years, and trying to determine what they can do to prevent something similar from happening again.
"If we keep doing the same thing over and over again, we're going to get the same result," Moore said. "So we want to know, do we have a game plan? Where is our attack? How much is it going to cost?"
'Hard working young lady'
Pidgeon had worked as a sergeant at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola since March of 2017, according to Ken Pastorick, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
Sharon Peterson, who lived next door to Pidgeon, said the mother of three was a wonderful neighbor and mother.
“She was a very beautiful young lady... hard working young lady,” Peterson said. “She didn’t deserve that... it’s senseless.”
Peterson, 55, said Pidgeon moved in about three years ago. The two of them would always say 'Hi,' and Peterson said she often saw Pidgeon sitting outside while her three young children would play.
“She was a good person,” Peterson said, adding that the shooting on Tuesday was a shock to an usually quiet neighborhood.
The annual homicide tallies are based on crime data submitted to the FBI each year by local law enforcement agencies. East Baton Rouge Parish numbers include data submitted from the Baton Rouge Police Department, East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, Zachary Police, Baker Police, LSU Police, and Southern University Police.
Reliable FBI data since 1965 on East Baton Rouge Parish homicides has been made available by a nonprofit group called the Murder Accountability Project. The FBI's statistics exclude killings ruled justified by law enforcement, as well as negligent homicides.
Baton Rouge had already broken its record for homicides within city limits. The Nov. 11 killing of Dezarae Warner on Washington Avenue marked the 76th homicide this year, surpassing the previous 2009 record of 75 homicides, according to FBI data.
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office has handled 13 cases since January, while the Zachary Police Department has handled four and Baker Police Department has investigated one, according to The Advocate's records. BRPD has handled 79 homicides, or 80 percent of the cases within the parish.
The parish homicide total last year dropped to 62, a celebrated low point that had not been seen since before Hurricane Katrina.
Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said though the numbers have been on the rise over the whole year, she believes newly implemented strategies have led to a recent decrease in homicides. From June to October this year, there were 11 or more homicides each month, but in November, the parish only saw 5.
"We have seen progress over the last two months with violent crime calls and homicide numbers dropping since the end of September," Broome said. "BRPD will continue their proactive policing and community engagement efforts to make certain this downward trend continues."
Violent crime overall slowly began to increase within the final months of 2016 — an upward trend that has accelerated this year. Firearm discharges in Baton Rouge climbed rapidly during the final months of 2016 and remain elevated, according to data collected and published by the city.
Officials have said that they worried a spike in homicides would follow rising violent crime rates and acknowledged the possibility that the low number for 2016 could have been an anomaly.
Killings in East Baton Rouge Parish last year dropped to the lowest level seen in more than a decade, sparking cautious optimism among law enf…
Before this year, East Baton Rouge Parish only surpassed 80 homicides in one year since 2012, when 84 were reported, according to FBI and The Advocate's records. The following years saw 64 in 2013, 63 in 2014, a bump to 78 in 2015 and then the drop to 62 in 2016.
Manpower and strategies
Moore said he believes this year's rise in homicides is likely related to a lack of manpower plaguing both Baton Rouge Police and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office. He said fewer officers on the street leads to less crime deterrence — which he believes is the most simple, and powerful, way to stop crime. But as the two agencies focus on staffing their uniform patrol divisions, Moore said officers are then pulled from other important divisions like intelligence, detectives or proactive policing.
"We have a lot of work to do, we have to get back to work," Moore said. "The only way we're going to do that is to have a full force of police and Sheriff's (officers)."
Broome acknowledged that as of the first week in December, Baton Rouge Police were still 56 officers short of their full 698 allotment, a number that has barely changed since August, when law enforcement officials first said their manpower was at unprecedented lows.
"We recently added seven new BRPD officers who graduated from a POST academy on November 17, and are securing funding for two 35-person academies (in 2018)," Broome said.
Broome also commended Interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam's move to add additional officers to their Street Crimes Unit and create a proactive strike force of officers responding quickly to violent, drug or group-related crime calls. She said the city's police department has also recently increased the number of homicide detectives and hopes it can continue to expand those ranks as manpower allows.
Dunnam said he has found the spike in homicides disheartening, but noted that it has followed trends in certain cities across the country.
The number of killings in East Baton Rouge Parish dropped dramatically in 2016, falling to levels not seen since before Hurricane Katrina.
The police chief agreed with both Moore and Broome, saying that a lack of officers has inhibited the department's effectiveness, but that their recent use of “targeted, proactive policing” has started to pay off.
He was clear to say that their changes in policing strategy is not a ‘broken windows-type policing,’ where officers might arrest a large number of people on minor infractions, but instead he said it's intelligence-based targeting of a small number of serious criminals in Baton Rouge.
Dunnam said his officers have continued to work hard and many hours of overtime, but he also thinks there’s been a shift in community support after the spike in summer murders.
“The community has really stepped up,” Dunnam said.
Of the homicides from this year with known circumstances — an arrest has been made in more than 50 percent — Moore said a larger proportion are related to drugs and domestic violence than he has seen in the past.
Of the 97 total so far this year, at least 12 were related to domestic violence, meaning they involved an act of violence against a current or former dating partner, according to The Advocate's records. Another three victims were babies less than a year old.
"Public safety ... should be Baton Rouge's number on goal to protect all of it's citizens, we really need to look at where we spend our money, and prioritize and make public safety actually number one," Moore said. "Otherwise we're going to be in the same position again."