Even after June became the most deadly month thus far in 2019 capped off by a horrific triple homicide last week, homicide records show that this year's count remains well below that of 2018, and still behind 2017 — a trend officials hope can continue through the second half of the year.
There have been 37 homicides recorded this year in East Baton Rouge Parish as of Sunday, more than 10 behind this halfway mark in 2018 and one behind 2017 records.
“We surely like where we are this year, compared to last year," said East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III. "We hope we’re able to continue this trend, but we know we’re facing the summer months still, and have a long way to go."
Summer months tend to be the most violent in urban areas, including Baton Rouge, with studies showing a correlation between hotter days and homicides. After one of Baton Rouge's safest months on record — with only two homicides in May — there were 11 homicides recorded in June, according to The Advocate's records. This past weekend, there were four different shootings in the capital city sending multiple people to the hospital, but no one died of their injuries, officials said.
There was a fifth shooting early Monday. A 31-year-old man was found injured in the 3000 block of Calumet Street. Detectives later determined the shooting occurred in the 3600 block of Plank Road, about two blocks from where the man was found.
“It’s hard to explain, hopefully it's no indication (for the rest of summer)," Moore said.
Last year, after homicides spiked in the first six months, killings slowed through the end of 2018, ending at 87 total. But in 2017, the slower start of homicides were a poor predictor of how the year would end: murders jumped in later months, bringing the year to the highest homicide count in the parish's history at 106.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said he's hopeful the downward trend for homicides in the first half of 2019 continues through the end of the year.
"If we can finish the last six months like we did the first six months, I think it’s going be very promising for our city,” Paul said.
The Advocate's homicide data is based on all intentional killings within East Baton Rouge Parish. It does not include deaths that have been ruled justified or accidental by law enforcement. Reporters record a homicide based on when the crime occurred.
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Both Moore and Paul credited the slower rate of homicides thus far with their formation, and execution, of the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, a federal, state and local partnership that works to better respond to gun violence in Baton Rouge and analyze what's going on and where.
Moore said full implementation of the center began in April, which includes a 'rapid response team.' The team of typically two officers answers calls and alerts about shootings or shots fired. They collect shell casings at the scene, knock on doors to get the most information possible and spend more time than had previously been the case investigating a shooting incident in which there were no victims.
While this effort is not yet 24/7, Moore said it's already allowing better analysis of gun violence in the city, and sending a message to trigger-pullers that there will be less “shooting with impunity” in Baton Rouge.
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In addition to officers working on the rapid response team and in the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, Paul said, they are using historical and up-to-the-minute crime data to better deploy their patrol officers.
"We’re being a little smarter about how we police," Paul said. "I really think a lot of that is paying off."
Paul said homicides within the city limits have dropped significantly compared to last year. BRPD handled 43 of the 48 homicides in the first half of 2018 — but this year, they have worked 26 homicides, a nearly 40 percent drop.
But as the city's homicide count has dropped this year, Moore pointed out a shift toward more homicides occurring in the parish's unincorporated areas — a significant change compared to historic trends. The increase could have to do with a growing population outside of the city's limits, the district attorney said.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, 70 people people have been killed so far in 2019.
As of Sunday, 11 of the 37 homicides occurred outside of city limits, about 30 percent of cases. In recent years, a much smaller portion of homicides have been outside city limits; in 2018, for example, only 10 percent of the parish's total homicides were outside the city limits.
East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux acknowledged the new disparity, but said the homicide numbers for unincorporated parts of the parish were driven up by a triple homicide last week and a June 4 fatal shooting of two roomates.
About half of the homicides the Sheriff's Office has investigated have been domestic, Gautreaux said, meaning the perpetrator and victim were household members or involved romantically. In a majority of them, he said, the alleged assailant personally knew the victim. Homicides the Sheriff's Office has handled so far this year include two 1-year-olds who officials say were killed by their parents and a 17-year-old accused of fatally shooting his father.
"Domestic cases are very difficult to prevent or predict, especially in terms of geography, " Gautreaux wrote in a statement. "We work hard to analyze crime data, especially Shot Spotter activations, and allocate resources accordingly. (But) this type of aggressive enforcement and visible presence doesn’t typically deter domestic homicides."
Gautreaux also noted that for the 11 cases his detectives have handled this year, all but three have been solved through the arrest of an assailant — a 72 percent clearance rate, which is well above the national average of about 60 percent.
The Baton Rouge Police Department has solved just under 50 percent of its homicide caseload this year. Paul called that promising, noting that detectives are following up on leads they hope will lead to additional solved cases.
He said detectives continue to reach out to the community, showing up at neighborhood events that don't have a direct connection to policing, hosting summer camps for kids and providing mentoring programs for youth.
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“A lot of the things that are going on in our police department are starting to change perceptions," Paul said. "When the community is beginning to trust us more, then they help us clear investigations. … We cannot do it alone, we have a responsibility as a police department, but the community has a responsibility as well."
And no matter any kind of early indicator for a less deadly year in the capital city, law enforcement authorities say they remain on high alert and are working to prevent further killings.
"Obviously one homicide is too many," Gautreaux wrote. "We will continue along the same vein of aggressive, collaborative and innovative enforcement along with community outreach and education."