Welcome to a tough job, Chief Paul, and one that got tougher over the New Year’s holiday.
No less than five killings in a weekend, four of them before New Year’s Day, means that Louisiana’s capital city is setting records in categories that no jurisdiction wants to have.
A veteran of Louisiana State Police, Murphy Paul now has been tapped by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome to deal with a homicide crisis.
His appointment coincided with the deadly New Year holiday, setting a record, according to The Advocate’s review of FBI crime statistics. The 2017 death toll was 106, besting the 2007 tally of 96. The city had another
Four homicides in one night were not related, but all that activity meant that the Baton Rouge Police Department — particularly because of a low number of homicide detectives — was stretched extremely thin, District Attorney Hillar Moore III said.
The department is currently operating with about 56 vacancies out of 698 total positions — a problem Moore and other officials have connected to the recent rise in homicides and other violent crime because people feel they can commit crimes with less fear of punishment.
What can be done?
Speaking after the announcement of his selection Friday morning, Paul said he believes next year will be better and said it is important to improve relationships between police officers and the community they serve.
Moore said he thinks the new chief will steer the department in a positive direction and make progress combating violent crime. Broome also said she chose Paul for the job because he is experienced, progressive and visionary.
All those qualities will be tested. As the mayor knows, as she gets the unwelcome news of serious crimes from the department, a chronic problem is young people with guns, all too willing to use them to settle disputes over drugs or anything else.
Police resources are a problem everywhere, though. In New Orleans, a serious and sustained effort to reduce homicides was effective there under Mayor Mitch Landrieu. But a later spike in robberies and thefts left many people in the city unhappy, whatever the statistical trend, and however much the focus on homicides is needed.
For Baton Rouge officials, the New Orleans experience should be instructive: A team of officers can have great success in tackling a particular category of crime but there are rarely sufficient officers needed to sustain that effort once another priority comes along.
It will be up to the new chief, and three deputies he will name later, to focus on Baton Rouge’s killing sprees. For the long term, though, the city needs a force commensurate to its obligations.