East Baton Rouge Parish experienced a startling 22 percent decrease in homicides from 2012 to 2013, a drop law enforcement officials attribute to collaborative efforts between agencies and aggressive crime-fighting techniques.
As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, there were 64 homicides in East Baton Rouge Parish in 2013, down from 83 in 2012 and 81 in 2011, according to unofficial statistics compiled by The Advocate.
“It’s a good first step,” Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. cautioned. “It’s not something that we can claim victory on and not worry about it anymore.”
Dabadie and other officials cited the work of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project as the cornerstone of the collaborative efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies they say is making a difference.
East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux also hailed the work done at the East Baton Rouge Violent Crime Unit at State Police headquarters — a collaborative unit of homicide and major assault detectives from State Police, city police and the Sheriff’s Office as well as agents and officials from the state Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Crime Stoppers and the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office — as another reason for the drop.
Peter Scharf, a criminologist at Tulane University, said a 20 percent drop in homicides is impressive and not many cities can boast such a decrease.
“For a city to go down that much, there’s something going on, and they have to be very proud of that,” he said. “That’s a very large drop.”
Of the homicides, three people were killed in a murder-suicide, three young children died from blunt-force traumatic injuries and four people were killed by family members.
Others include a man shot and killed on his 48th birthday, a man beaten to death with a board inside a vacant home and a man shot in the chest while sleeping in bed in his apartment with his 6-year-old son.
Of the total number of homicides, 50 of the victims were shot, four were stabbed, seven were beaten, one was run over by a car, one died from injuries when his head hit the ground after being punched in the face and one died from a heroin overdose that authorities have categorized as a homicide.
The statistics compiled by The Advocate exclude homicides that authorities have classified as negligent, such as the three accidental shooting deaths of children in late January, or justifiable, such as the fatal shootings of two men by Baton Rouge police officers in separate incidents.
It also does not include vehicular homicides.
Another reason for the decrease, District Attorney Hillar Moore III said, was the dramatic drop in gang-related homicides.
In the BRAVE grants, officials noted how 52 percent of the homicides in 2010, 2011 and part of 2012 were gang-related. Moore said only two or three of the 64 homicides this year were gang-related.
“I just think that combination of reducing gang murders and reducing domestic violence murders this year really helped in reducing the murders this year,” Moore said.
Gang-related violence also has decreased, Moore said, after the two BRAVE call-ins, during which law enforcement officers and community leaders met with reputed violent offenders to warn them of the consequences of their actions and to strongly encourage them to change.
Moore said he feels the decrease began in September 2012 when BRAVE officers began patroling the 70805 Zip code and installing community policing measures from Operation Ceasefire across the parish. Before September, the parish averaged more than eight homicides a month, but after that, the number dropped to about three a month. In 2013, the parish averaged about five per month.
David M. Kennedy, the criminologist whose group-violence reduction strategy serves as the backbone for BRAVE, said the more than 20 percent drop is not uncommon in cities that have adopted the crime-reduction strategies used in Operation Ceasefire.
“That’s pretty normal,” he said.
He said the staggering drops in homicides have happened so frequently that some law enforcement officials have called it the “lightswitch effect,” because as soon as the program is implemented, the change is nearly instantaneous.
Reygan E. Harmon, Ceasefire project manager for the Oakland Police Department, said in the first year of using their current version of Ceasefire that they began last October, they saw a 29 percent drop in homicides from 125 in 2012 to 89 in 2013.
“It’s the first year of the program, and I would attribute a significant amount of that decline to Ceasefire,” Harmon said. “Because what it is is just really focusing on those who are highest risk of becoming victims or perpetuators of violence. If you focus on them, then you’re obviously going to have a decline because they’re the ones who are most likely to drive those numbers up.”
But the homicide numbers in East Baton Rouge Parish could increase depending on the outcome of a few open investigations.
One is the death of Doris Antwine, 72, on July 28. Antwine died in a house fire, and although authorities have not concluded their investigation, the Baton Rouge Fire Department has said that they do not think the fire was accidental. The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office has ruled her death a homicide.
Another investigation is into the death of 6-month-old Aiden King, who was found dead in his home on Nov. 6. His father has been arrested on second-degree murder in the case, but officials say that death may ultimately be ruled something other than a homicide.
Gautreaux stressed that even though the decrease is substantial, there is room for improvement and their work is far from over.
“One homicide is too many, and as long as we have crime, there is room for improvement,” he said. “We will continue working side-by-side with the other area law enforcement agencies; we will continue to be aggressive and innovative; and we will continue to reach out to the community for partnerships and assistance.”