In July 2020, several billboards appeared across our city touting crime statistics in Baton Rouge, sponsored by the local police union. In a letter to the editor, Tammy Rivault asserts that by objecting to these billboards last summer, I missed “the perfect opportunity to own the statistics, support police, and have a call to action in crime-riddled neighborhoods."
My expressed disapproval of these billboards was not grounded in my failure to “recognize crime rates,” as the writer states. Rather, I was troubled by the pointless and divisive nature of these advertisements, which only detract from the efforts of our police officers.
As mayor-president, I have consistently supported the needs of law enforcement. Over the last four years, Baton Rouge has invested more than $27 million in state-of-the-art equipment and technology, including new vehicles, the Real-Time Crime Center, and body cameras. In 2020, our Metro Council awarded what I hope is the first of several pay increases for Baton Rouge officers.
Also, while overall crime has declined during my tenure, I fundamentally disagree with the idea that any single person or group “owns” what happens in our community, whether the statistics are positive or negative. Collaboration represents our best chance to leverage resources and improve outcomes, and I have worked to improve the lives of citizens and advance collective progress of our community by inspiring unity and facilitating cooperation. Fortunately, and not by chance, the data shows our community’s combined efforts to reduce crime are working.
From 2019 to 2020, crime overall in Baton Rouge dropped 7.3%. Property crime is down 9.15% from the previous year, and despite the adverse impact of the pandemic, Baton Rouge remains on a positive trajectory in our efforts to reduce violent crime. From 2017-2020, violent crime overall has decreased by 16.48%.
Nevertheless, our responsibility for the safety of every citizen compels us to focus our attention on violent crime. From 2019 to 2020, Baton Rouge experienced a 1.01% increase in violent crime overall, and like similar communities across the country, homicide rates in the city increased significantly. Likewise, considering that almost half the homicides that occurred in Baton Rouge in 2020 took place either inside or on the property of a residence, we are confronted with a difficult truth.
Ridding our city of violence requires us to look beyond how we police our streets. It requires us to deal with socio-economic challenges, mental health issues, domestic violence, substance abuse, and other underlying causes that frequently trigger violent crime. These conditions have been exasperated by the pandemic, not only in Baton Rouge, but across the country.
In Baton Rouge, we are having difficult but straightforward conversations about these complex issues. We are taking swift and thoughtful action. Rather than relying solely on better policing, we are implementing holistic initiatives that address the underlying causes of crime, such as our Safe, Hopeful, Healthy Initiative.
SHARON WESTON BROOME