Trust key ingredient to fighting local crime

This news analysis ran on the Opinion page of The Advocate on June 27, 2012. View the page here. Or, on The Advocate’s website here. 

In an unlikely partnership, residents of the city’s crime-plagued 70805 ZIP code, many of whom have long distrusted the Baton Rouge Police Department, are now saying they are ready to help the department in its new efforts to fight violent crime in their neighborhood.

The north Baton Rouge ZIP code area accounts for 30 percent of the city’s homicides but only 13 percent of its population.

The success of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination program, or BRAVE, hinges on the ability of the BRAVE unit — made up of five elite officers — to build trust with the community’s law-abiding residents, who are often too afraid to report criminal activity out of fear of retaliation, said Lt. Todd Lee, who helped draft the plan.

Many residents at a community meeting Thursday said they’ve had enough with the crime and the violence and they are ready to help the police — if the police follow through on their promises.

Many residents also said they are now more willing to call the police because they feel BRAVE proves the police now may be more responsive to their concerns, whereas in the past, there has been a perception the Police Department was apathetic toward black-on-black crime.

“Why call ’em if they’re not going to do anything?” said the Rev. Ronald Williams, whose Mount Carmel Baptist Church is located in 70805. “By and large, the opinion of the public of the city police is not good — there’s some work to be done.”

Eual Hall, 66, has lived in the heart of the 70805 ZIP code since 1968.

In churches, corner stores and on the streets, Hall said, he has heard much buzz about the city’s new community policing plan.

The general response, Hall said, has been a mix of skepticism and optimism.

“One of the main reactions I’m hearing is, ‘Is it for real?’ and ‘Will it be sustainable?’” Hall said. “I mean, they’re saying, ‘Will it be a fly-by-night kind of thing? Are they gonna work with us? Are they gonna be able to come in, in a talkative mode, before they start putting cuffs on and all that kind of stuff?’ ”

Even with those questions, Hall said, most agree something needs to be done.

“We certainly want to pass it along to the Police Department that we appreciate what they’re doing and what BRAVE is doing. We are very thankful,” Hall said.

While short-term trust may initially develop from the Police Department’s inclusion of local clergymen in BRAVE, building long-term trust will be more of a “balancing act,” said Adell Brown, president of 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge.

“One thing the community is very leery of is heavy-handed policing,” Brown said.

In addition to the community policing, another key component of BRAVE is arresting young criminals and, using harsh sentences as leverage, offering them a chance at a better life through services like drug and alcohol counseling, GED classes, vocational training and mentoring.

Coupled with a stronger police presence, residents say they feel opportunities in an area like 70805 — where only 65 percent of the population graduated high school, 60 percent of the population is employed and 7 percent have bachelor’s degrees, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau — could break the cycle of hopelessness and crime.

At the community meeting, the hope and optimism were palpable as neighbors shook hands and exchanged phone numbers with the police officers.

“I think they really got to get it rolling,” said Dorothy Young, 45. “They’re heading in the right direction. We’re about to see some changes. That’s what we need.”

Naomi Martin covers crime in East Baton Rouge Parish for The Advocate. She can be reached at nmartin@theadvocate.com.

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