Janessa Hartley.jpg

Janessa Hartley

The slaying of Janessa "Nessa" Hartley, who was shot by a masked gunman on the evening of Jan. 15 as she was chatting with a friend in a car, shocked residents of the Sherwood Forest area and prompted local crime district leaders to ramp up existing plans for security cameras.

Hartley was dropping off her friend, Linda Donnelly, at her Brookshire Avenue home around 8 p.m. when the gunman approached the car and fired one shot into the driver's side door.

More than a month later, the case remains unsolved.

"We're very concerned that this person has not been caught," Donnelly said in an interview. "The police have all the information we can give them, and we're hoping they can track this person down."

Donnelly declined to elaborate on what she witnessed that evening because those details could interfere with the investigation. She continues to grieve over the loss of her friend and said she believes the police are doing everything they can to solve the case.

"Nessa and I have been dear and close friends for 36 years," she said. "We shared our lives and raised our families together. Her children and grandbabies were her world. This senseless crime has devastated all of those close to her."

Leaders of the Sherwood Forest Crime Prevention District said they've been working for years on a plan to get security cameras and license plate readers installed at every entrance to the neighborhood. And they hope that system will finally be operational within the next few months.

District chair Gary Patureau said it's unfortunate the cameras weren't installed before Hartley's killing, but there's a process district leaders have to follow under state guidelines that takes time to complete. 

The crime prevention district — one of 32 across Louisiana — was created five years ago. District chair Gary Patureau said residents wanted to prevent the infiltration of crime from surrounding areas and voted in favor of a crime district, which means the neighborhood's more than 3,000 homes are each required to pay $75 per year toward its operations. 

Most of the money goes toward paying off-duty Baton Rouge police officers to patrol the neighborhood, which is generally quiet and safe, experiencing on average a few car or house burglaries a month, according to crime district leaders.

The district extends south roughly from Florida Boulevard to Old Hammond Highway, and east from Sharp Road to South Flannery Drive.

Leaders planned from the beginning to install cameras at the 16 entrances and were saving up to cover the cost, Patureau said. But, he said, those plans were delayed after the 2016 floods because some of that money was diverted to ramping up security patrols to ward off potential home burglars. 

The current plans include a pilot program with the Baton Rouge Police Department's Real Time Crime Center, which is also under construction at department headquarters and expected in coming months.

Patureau said Sherwood Forest's cameras and license plate readers will be integrated into the department's system so crime analysts and responding officers can use the findings.

The Real Time Crime Center will provide a central hub for the department to analyze data and push out information to responding officers, allowing them to be more informed when they arrive on scene. 

Patureau said he believes the pilot program in Sherwood Forest will be duplicated in other communities later on. In the meantime, Baton Rouge police have requested surveillance footage from Sherwood Forest residents whose cameras may have captured images of Hartley's killer.

Authorities have released little information about the case aside from reassuring people that investigators are following all leads. Patureau said he's optimistic it will ultimately be solved.

"We're all grieving with the Hartley family for the loss of our neighbor and friend," he said. "This is truly a worst-case scenario and we want this person caught and held to the very highest standard of the law."

Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.