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East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome 

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

Reacting to a troubling spike in homicides, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome pledged to improve public safety through a variety of efforts, including fixing street lighting, addressing blight and encouraging residents to set up or strengthen neighborhood watch groups.

"There's a shared common denominator among the citizens of this community, and that is that everyone wants to feel safe," Broome said Tuesday at a news conference, joined by law enforcement and other local public officials. "Our goal and our commitment is certainly to work together to take immediate action."

Thus far this year, there have been 65 killings that were not ruled justified or accidental in the parish, according to The Advocate's records. In all of 2016, there were 62 homicides.

Baton Rouge surpassed New Orleans in the number of homicides in July and August, said crime analyst Jeff Asher — a role reversal, as the Big Easy typically sees significantly higher homicide counts. And the beginning of September had five straight days with a homicide in Baton Rouge.

“We recognize that there has been an increase as it relates to homicides in our city and parish,” Broome said. “We want to engage and encourage the engagement of the citizens in this community to be part of the equation of solving criminal and violent activity. … That action involves the collaboration of, not only law enforcement, but the citizens of this community as well.”

Broome said she has once again called upon her public safety transition team to come up with a plan to encourage residents to play a role in decreasing crime, and she called on residents to start reviving or strengthening neighborhood watch programs.

Baton Rouge interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam echoed Broome's call for community engagement.

"As a community, we can combat crime," Dunnam said. He encouraged residents to not hesitate in coming forward and working with police, especially in homicide investigations.

Dunnam said the staggering increase in killings — as well as violent crime — is not from a lack of effort by law enforcement, noting the recent increased Friday night patrols, extended hours on the job by their Street Crimes Unit, and the implementation of a new data-driven policing model to target crime-ridden areas.

Dunnam said the majority of this year’s homicides are drug-related and an increasing number are connected to domestic violence.

He also mentioned that the spike in violence could stem from the chaos and disruption the community faced following the Great Flood of 2016, a theory known as social disorganization.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III called Tuesday for fully staffed law enforcement departments, as both the police department and the parish Sheriff's Office are still short officers. The Baton Rouge Police Department was about 60 officers short as of Tuesday, Dunnam said.

Baton Rouge Police will hold a 15- to 20-person academy beginning this month, Dunnam said, adding that he he also hopes the department can hold two academies in 2018.

Broome said she is looking at the budget “very seriously” to fund those two other academies, but made no promises on funding.

Moore said local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have been working together for the last few months as they noted the uptick in violent crime, meeting Wednesdays to track and evaluate shots fired, and that will continue.

“We’ve been meeting as a team, we are going to work as a team,” Moore said. “We have better days ahead of us.”

Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.