Way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was young reporter playing on one of this newspaper’s softball teams. One of the opposing teams was a bunch of young lawyers.
One of the lawyers was Hillar Moore III, the current East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney. I can announce, without equivocation, that Moore is a much better district attorney than softball player.
Yuks aside, I called him a week ago after I saw a TV news clip of him responding to someone at the site of a killing. The man asked whether black lives matter, the mantra created in 2012 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
Moore is part of a law enforcement community and legal system that has to prove that black lives do matter and that a prosecutor is focused on making their lives better. They are up against a community that more often than not sees the District Attorney’s Office as an enemy bent on pushing for long sentences.
It will be difficult for a prosecutor to prove that what he does in and out of the courtroom will lower the crime rate. But, that’s what Moore says he intends to do.
“I have to show the people that I really care about them,” he said, adding that the numbers show most of the violent crimes occur in black neighborhoods in Baton Rouge. Moore is careful not to call it black-on-black crime.
To that point, he says that crime happens where people live, and that the chances of crime are higher in poorer areas.
During our conversation, he showed me studies and books on fighting crime that delve into the psychology of law enforcement and how to deal with a skeptical community.
He cites the success of the community-policing Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination (BRAVE) program, which many claim has been key to a reduction in violent crime over the past several years.
But to reduce the crime rate even further, especially the killings, Moore needs to make convictions. And that’s where the question of whether black lives matter often runs into closed doors. The prosecutor needs witnesses willing to talk.
To that end, Moore said he will be instituting a Crime Strategy Unit that will include two assistant district attorneys and an assistant U.S. Attorney, along with more analysis of crime statistics and those committing crimes.
Unit members will go into the areas of high crime and establish relationships with preachers, teachers, residents and community leaders. They will try to work with victims’ families and those tired of the situation they live in.
They will seek ways to reduce blight, drug dealing and fear. If getting rid of an abandoned house or other elements that spawn more criminal activity will benefit the community, “that’s what we will do,” he said.
“The community will tell us what they need,” Moore added.
Moore calls what they will be doing “procedural legitimacy.” “We’ve got to get the trust of the community that the legal system will be fair.”
Too often, witnesses don’t trust prosecutors and become uncooperative, Moore said. “They will tell us one thing when the crime is committed, then say something else to a grand jury or not show up to give testimony,” he told me. “Sometimes, they are afraid.”
The other part of the bargain, he said, is that “we will have to return to the community and tell them about the results’’ of their help. Even more, he said his office will have to continue its relationship with the community long after the crime numbers show a decrease.
He said he is modeling his effort after a similar district attorney-led program in New York City’s Manhattan area where the number of murders dropped from 648 in 2009 to only 59 several years later.
Moore said he wants to start the first phase of the effort in September. It will require a partnership of the entire law enforcement community to work, he said.
This sounds like a great idea for my one-time softball competitor. I hope he hits a home run.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is email@example.com.