During the campaign for mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish, the rap on Democratic candidate Sharon Weston Broome was she’s anti-police. Her detractors painted her as someone more sympathetic to criminals than cops. The fear was she’d tie the hands of police when fighting crime. Has she? Hard to say. This we do know, after one year of Broome’s leadership, homicides in the parish have skyrocketed 70 percent.
There were 61 murders in the parish in 2016. In 2017 the number rose to a record-breaking 106. The 70 percent increase represents a staggering number for a population of only 450,000.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III wonders if the 70 percent increase in homicides last year may have been caused by the historic 2016 flooding. “Surely drug dealing was disrupted by floods. Their drug markets were moved around. Did they come back and start to get organized again? Is it historic feuding between families?” he said.
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But the disruption in the drug trade caused by the flooding doesn’t explain the dramatic rise in 2017 homicides if you compare them to the average over the past five years. East Baton Rouge Parish had 66 homicides in 2013, 63 in 2014, 78 in 2015 and 62 in 2016. Going from an average of 68 homicides per year to all of a sudden 106 last year should raise a serious red flag. Something changed.
One of Broome’s former opponents for the position she currently holds, John Delgado, puts the 70 percent rise in homicides squarely on the shoulders of the mayor-president.
“She walked into that office and instantly demoralized the police department. They knew from the rank and file to the top she did not have their back, she did not support them.“ said Delgado, a Republican former member of the Metro Council.
During his campaign for mayor-president, Delgado warned voters of Broome’s anti-cop bias. And he says he predicted back then it would lead to a spike in violence.
“She walks in with an anti-police bias. You don’t think that trickles down to every officer on the force? The murder rate is indicative of the overall high crime rate. Aggravated assault, armed robberies, everything is going up along with it,” Delgado said.
Delgado also believes Broome’s anti-police bias has hurt recruiting for the understaffed department. He says new recruits might think twice about working for a department, fearing the chief she hires would reflect her anti-cop bias.
During the campaign Broome made it very clear she was going to bring about big change and reforms for the Police Department. During a debate she promised a change from what she described as “aggression and a lack of de-escalation” from police. It’s difficult to determine how much of that reform has taken place since a full year into Broome’s tenure she has just now put in place her police chief with the recent hiring of Murphy Paul.
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Broome promised to hire a police chief who embraces her vision for change for the department. We don’t yet know if Paul will work to dismantle the so-called aggression and a lack of de-escalation Broome sees from police. And if Paul does so, what impact it may have on Baton’s Rouge’s dramatic escalation in violent crime?
Broome clearly mismanaged her crusade to replace former police chief Carl Dabadie. He finally resigned this past summer. And Broome’s questionable attempt to award a anti-crime contract to former gang member and anti-cop zealot Arthur "Silky" Slim only reinforced the narrative that she’s more sympathetic to criminals than police. And it took months after taking office before Broome met with police union officials who were highly critical of her.
In fairness to Broome most criminologists will tell you there is a lag effect between policy changes and their impact on crime. It’s probably unfair to put all the blame on Broome for the sudden rise in homicides under her tenure. But if she does bring abut the considerable change in policing she has promised, time will reveal its impact on crime. And if the trend of an unprecedented increase in homicides continue, voters may have a tough time re-electing Broome to a second term.
Email Dan Fagan at email@example.com.
Welcome to a tough job, Chief Paul, and one that got tougher over the New Year’s holiday.