Moments after I and a group of friends arrived home recently from a five-day vacation, we were met by several other friends who were eager to give us the latest Baton Rouge news. The majority of the conversation was about the number of people who had gotten shot. That was a hell of a way to be greeted after a week of fun. The added thought that Hurricane Harvey had a weak possibility of crawling toward us made the first hours back a drag.
Reacting to a troubling spike in homicides, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon W…
We essentially escaped Harvey, but Baton Rouge was knee-deep in the reality of shootings and homicides. In fact, the number of homicides, 65, has surpassed last year’s total in East Baton Rouge Parish. Mayor-President Sharon Weston-Broome has announced a plan to try to stem the tide. She has enjoined the assistance of the Baton Rouge Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney and the community in a battle against the bad guys.
Her plan also includes dealing with blight in various neighborhoods. That’s a good thing. And, she and the law enforcement folks are asking the community to provide more information about crimes they see and the criminals they see doing it. We’ll see how that goes. The fight is to be commended. My guess is that this concentrated effort, if used wisely and aggressively, may well stanch the bleeding. In the next few weeks, we may see a spike in arrests and fewer dangerous crimes. Bad guys could be going to jail, and that will look good on the stat sheet and in the news releases. But it seems temporary and more window-dressing than anything else.
Sending more people to jail is not a long-term answer to what’s happening. If sending people to jail were the solution, Baton Rouge and Louisiana should not have a problem. No state in the country sends as many people per capita to prison as Louisiana does. And we’re still among the deadliest places in the U.S. The long-term fight needs to be better education, jobs and job training programs.
After four fatal shootings between Tuesday and Friday of this week, the number of homicides …
A sustained program would involve more than badges and courtrooms. We need the public school system, the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the universities, business groups and others at the table developing a long-range plan. “One of the best predictors of homicide is economic stress,” said University of Maryland Criminology Professor Gary LaFree, responding to a question about the cause of violent crime. The city government needs to appoint a task force or someone whose only focus is trying to make sure there are jobs and full job-training programs across town.
If the main weapon used to stifle crime is jail time, then that will be akin to placing a Band-Aid on a steadily growing wound. There were 83 homicides in Baton Rouge in 2012. Temporary fixes don’t work.
As former USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickhman said, there are “those who think more prisons, not better schools, is the answer to youth violence.” But a lot of local governments don’t like to think about the long-term battle against violence in the communities — usually inhabited by poor people and minorities — where violent crime is the highest. Politicians, business and community leaders want to see pretty numbers that quickly reflect improvement.
A real effort takes more time, requires more planning and more serious people. You can’t contract out leadership to political allies. You need dedicated people who know that putting such a comprehensive plan together won’t yield big public relations dividends for a while. This is where the real battle — down dirty and slow — will be won. Just sending more people to jail is weak (but good PR) and shortsighted. Getting people ready for jobs and benefits is the best avenue. But that means economic development and a willingness by the communities not affected by crime to pitch in and do their part.
Oh, and let’s improve all of our schools. That’s the main medicine, along with jobs, for what ails us. After Broome made her crime-fighting announcement, EBR District Attorney Hillar Moore said, “We have better days ahead of us.”
Let’s hope. And hopefully, it will be longer than a year or two.