With 87 homicides – defined by officials as intentional killings, which were neither justified nor accidental – 2017 was the bloodiest year in the modern history of the City of Baton Rouge. The previous city record of 75 was set in 2009. Prior to 1990, Baton Rouge had never had over 50 murders recorded in a single year. Parishwide, East Baton Rouge also set a record with 106 murders. The previous high tally of 96 was set a decade earlier in 2007, and 2017 was the first time in parish history that the numbers of murders reached triple digits. For both the city and the parish, the number of homicides last year showed an incredible increase in violence – 50% greater than the average of the preceding 5 years. And recent crime data shows that this wave is continuing to crash into 2018.
In the first two months on 2018, the city of Baton Rouge has experienced 14 homicides. This is the highest total for any January and February this century. By comparison, in 2017 there were only 9 homicides in the first two months of the year. Off to this start, Baton Rougeans can expect another record year for homicides. There has already been a 55% increase in the number of homicides! Even more frightening is the clearance rate. Arrests have only been made in 2 of the recent 14 homicides according to reporting sources.
A number of experts (both actual professionals and those who are only experts on Facebook) have weighed in on the reason for the dramatic rise in homcides. Some like DA Hillar Moore have posited the “social disorganization theory” – blaming chaos from the 2016 Great Flood for the increase in crime. Former Interim Chief Jonny Dunnam suggested the increase could be the possible effect of a nationwide opioid drug epidemic. Others, like criminology professor Richard Rosenfeld suggested that the Alton Sterling shooting in Summer 2016 may have caused a “Ferguson effect.” He told the Advocate:
“There are two versions (of that theory). One had the police withdrawing from communities,” Rosenfeld said, which he finds the less compelling argument for Baton Rouge’s killing spike. “(The other is) where the disadvantaged, minority community is withdrawing from police, (they’re) less likely to cooperate with police, less likely to be a witness in a crime … and perhaps more likely to take matters into their own hands — that could bump up the homicide rate.”
Other law enforcement sources have cited the end of the BRAVE program and also manpower shortages at BRPD as the reason behind the increase.
Ultimately, everyone seems to be pointing fingers in every possible direction, except for the obvious: The blame falls on the criminals themselves. And why do criminals commit crimes? You may as well ask “Why do snakes bite and scorpions sting?” The answer is simple – because it is in their nature. Our city is not flooded with crime because of the record rainfall two summers ago.
Our city is simply awash with criminals.
The academics and experts can endlessly opine as to the root causes of criminal behavior: poverty, lack of education, dearth of opportunities, systemic racism, societal distrust, and natural disasters are all good possibilities. Experts have the benefit of sitting behind their computer screens pondering social “what ifs” at a distance, but our elected leaders need to stop pondering and take action.
As Mayor Broome begins her second year in office, the 2018 homicide rate will fall squarely (and justly) on her shoulders. It is past the time to blame the previous administration. The Mayor had an entire year – and took all of it – to select “her” police chief. She failed to fund the data-driven analytical component of the BRAVE program, opting instead to dole out contracts to the “feel good” community initiatives. Worse still, the only policing directives proposed by Mayor Broome were focused on “de-escalation” and other tactics that served only to soften up the police department’s approach to crime.
The recent violent crime statistics are a warning both to the citizens of Baton Rouge, and to our elected officials. Our city has descended into a pool of violence that will only deepen if we do not act now. It is time to call in the State Police to supplement our decreased manpower at BRPD. Now. Call for three police academy classes of 50 officers each for 2018. Now. Recruit more and better qualified applicants – and retain our existing officers – by increasing police pay. Now. Support the good officers in the department and let them do their jobs. Now.
Baton Rouge is drowning in violence. Police are our only lifeguards. Save our city.
John Delgado is an attorney, business owner and former Baton Rouge Council Member. He is also the co-host of Face2Face on Mondays at 6pm on Talk 107.3 FM.