Significant drop in homicides brings La. city closer to pre-pandemic levels

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By Elyse Carmosino

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

EAST BATON ROUGE, La. — With just over a month left until the end of the year, East Baton Rouge has seen its biggest drop in homicides since before 2020, bringing the parish’s numbers down nearly to pre-pandemic levels after more than three years of unprecedented violence, records kept by The Advocate show.

As of Nov. 24, 85 killings had occurred within the parish since the start of the year, far lower than the 103 recorded by the same date last year and nearly 40% less than the 134 recorded in 2021.

The last time East Baton Rouge ended the year with fewer than 100 homicides was in 2019, when 83 people were killed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31.

The paper’s data, which was checked against numbers from the Baton Rouge Police, East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office and other local agencies, covers intentional and unjustified killings, as defined by FBI crime reporting rules. Those killings are criminal homicides and legally classified as murder and manslaughter, though the numbers are subject to change if authorities later deem some cases accidental or justified, and vice versa.

Like many communities across the U.S., East Baton Rouge experienced a dramatic uptick in homicides in 2020, ending what was, at the time, its deadliest year to date with 114 killings — surpassing 2017’s previous all-time high of 106 — as the parish struggled to stem the flow of violence amid tumult that came with pandemic lockdowns.

The upward trajectory continued throughout 2021, which shattered the previous year’s record with 149 homicides, before falling to 115 in 2022.

Bloodshed continued to subside during the first quarter of 2023 before a string of killings caused the parish’s murder rate to plateau in May, when at least 15 shootings over an eight-day period left 11 people dead — more than in the previous four weeks combined.

Since then, however, the average number of homicides each month dropped considerably. In August, authorities investigated two killings. In September and October, three. There has been a slight uptick in recent weeks with seven homicides since Nov. 1.

According to Advocate records, there has not been a month with fewer than six homicides since before 2020.

“You’re looking at work at the community level,” said BRPD spokesman Sgt. Darren Ahmed, who credited the Public Safety Partnership — a coalition of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and community workers — for much of the progress the parish has made in reducing gun violence.

The partnership, which includes all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in East Baton Rouge, the U.S. Attorney’s and District Attorney’s offices and the mayor-president’s office, has outlined four goals in its public safety plan:

— Conduct outreach to violence-affected youth and provide them with career and educational opportunities.

— Prioritize gun crimes and high-risk offenders when prosecuting criminal cases.

— Address blight that contributes to gun violence in neighborhoods.

— Focus law enforcement resources on violent individuals and locations utilizing data, technology, intelligence sharing and proactive policing.

Many of the coalition’s aims rely heavily on data collected through BRPD’s Real Time Crime Center, Ahmed said, which opened in 2020 as a way for the department to target violence-plagued neighborhoods.

Shortly after the center’s launch, BRPD Chief Murphy Paul said the facility’s technology, which includes live traffic cameras, maps with active calls, license plate readers and other tech, led officers to pinpoint the Brookstown area as a violence hot spot, deeming the neighborhood one of a handful of “micro-areas” on which to focus resources.

At the time, Paul said that officers were able to use crime center data to implement a patrol strategy in Brookstown, and BRPD later reported a 24% decrease in crime in the community.

Still, the department has fielded harsh criticism in recent years as the parish’s homicide rate remains above what it was before the pandemic.

During a media briefing earlier this year to address a sudden rash of deadly shootings, Paul defended his officers’ work, attributing the rise, in part, to what he said was a high number of re-offenders walking the streets.

“I get sick and tired of hearing from my police officers that we’re dealing with the same individuals,” he said in May. “We are dealing with the symptoms of crime. There has to be more accountability.”

To aggressively tackle EBR’s crime stats, Paul stated that the department would expand intelligence-sharing between State Police, EBRSO, Probation and Parole and federal partners, while touting the agency’s addition of four drones, 40 additional crime cameras and 41 new license plate readers to the Real Time Crime Center’s inventory.

Now, Ahmed said, such technology is playing a pivotal role in how the department addresses crime.

“We follow the data,” he said. “When those spikes go up, we focus on those areas, we gather that data, and we do additional proactive patrols. At some point, we’ll see a reduction.”

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(c)2023 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Visit The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. at www.theadvocate.com

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