Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden appears to be trying to downplay the city’s violent crime problem as a campaign issue. But that’s going to be tough to do.
In his annual “State of the City” address before the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge on Wednesday, Holden ran through a litany of tragedies in this community, including two that involved gun violence: a 4-year-old shooting himself with his father’s gun and Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe’s son being shot during what police have said was a drug deal gone bad.
Holden predicted some may try to use such tragedies for political gain.
“This is not the time,” Holden said. “Crime is an issue that concerns all of us, and fighting it involves all of us.”
Holden tried to put a positive spin on Baton Rouge’s violent crime problems by noting that homicides and other violent crimes have declined in the last few years.
“Overall, serious crime has dropped for eight of the past 11 years,” Holden said. “And,since the year 2000, overall serious crime has declined 30 percent. But, I bet it surprises you to hear these official statistics from the FBI.”
That’s all serious crimes and includes some property crimes.
But the crimes that concern the public are those that cause death and bodily injury.
It is true that homicides have dropped in the city of Baton Rouge over the last two years from 75 in 2009 to 69 in 2010 and 64 in 2011.
But the number of murders is still higher than a decade ago.
According to FBI statistics, Holden’s benchmark year of 2000 saw 58 homicides in the city Baton Rouge. And in 2004, the year Holden was first elected mayor-president, the city saw 47 homicides.
Holden correctly indicated that a quick solution to crime problems is not available.
“Getting drugs and guns out of our community is going to take effective law enforcement,” Holden said. “But it is also going to take tough judges, strong families, dedicated clergy, good jobs and a functional public education system that educates our children.”
Holden’s comments seemed almost a pre-emptive strike at his potential election opponents.
Metro Councilman Mike Walker, who chairs the council as mayor pro-tem, focused on crime when he announced later Wednesday he will try to unseat Holden.
While Walker talked about improving education and boosting job creation, he said attacking the city-parish’s crime problem is the top priority.
Walker said people see news reports of violent crime in the community and know that “no matter where you live or how much money you make, you’re vulnerable — we’re all vulnerable —to the culture of crime that’s overtaking our parish.”
Seizing on Holden’s oft-repeated promise to make Baton Rouge America’s next great city, Walker said: “We can’t be America’s next great city if we are not a safe city.”
Walker promised to rally local law enforcement agencies to attack gangs and drugs he said are driving much of the area’s crime problem.
If a lot of this sounds familiar, it should.
In 2000, when he ran for mayor and lost, Holden said one of his top areas of focus would be fighting the city-parish’s crime problems. Holden pledged to put more police into neighborhoods through what he called “community policing.”
Holden again talked about community policing in the 2004 campaign that saw him elected to his first term as mayor.
In 2004, Holden said he wanted to put more police officers on the streets so that neighborhoods could stop the practice of paying for off-duty police officers to make periodic patrols.
In the years since, Baton Rouge has seen a proliferation of special districts that allow homeowners to tax themselves to pay for beefed-up police patrols in their neighborhoods.
So, the idea that Baton Rouge’s crime problems might become a flash point for politicking is no surprise.
What’s surprising is Holden’s suggestion that anyone who talks about murder and mayhem is somehow trying to capitalize on human tragedy.
On the contrary, because it is so tragic, Baton Rouge’s violent crime problem should be one of the focal points of this fall’s local elections.
Carl Redman is executive editor of The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.