(BATON ROUGE, La.) — ‘Resources, resolve and reassurance.”
That’s the simple, three-word message Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul told commanders Tuesday he wants to send to the community about the city’s surge in violent crime.
As part of an in-depth look at how the city is dealing with the problem, ABC News was granted access to a series of neighborhood meetings Paul is holding, as well as a ride-along with the department’s street crimes task force.
On his way to one of those meetings, Paul said he’s ordered that he get a call from the police dispatcher whenever there’s a homicide.
That is happening more and more in Baton Rouge.
In 2020, there were 101 homicides, according to police data, compared to 69 in 2019.
And so far this year, there have been 60 homicides, many linked to guns.
At a meeting with local pastors on Wednesday, Paul said there had been more than 200 guns stolen in the city, 94 of them pulled out of cars. Although it is not known exactly how many of those were tied to homicides, the chief encouraged pastors to urge their communities to keep guns secure.
Even with new concern about gun availability, a bill to allow anyone 21 or older to carry a concealed handgun in Louisiana without a permit or training secured final legislative passage with bipartisan support earlier this month, the AP reported, although Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards promised to veto the measure.
Paul told ABC News that, in addition to employing evidence-based strategies such as using technology to detect shootings and stepping up patrols in high-crime areas, there are opportunities to intervene beforehand.
“In many of these homicides, they’ve targeted the individuals,” he said.
In light of that, his department is working to create “safe places” where concerned family members can call the violent crime unit before any shooting happens.
“We understand that the reality is, as we work to improve community relations, that they don’t always feel comfortable with picking up the phone and calling,” he said. “We want them to give us an opportunity to prevent those crimes from happening … when calling nobody should not be an option.”
Among the reasons he thinks violent crime is rising are stress from the pandemic and the George Floyd murder, which he said “agitated scars within the community.”
While he said crime numbers suggest it will be a “hot summer,” he said his department is adapting.
When he speaks to new officers, he said, he gives them this scenario: the recruit pulls over a young lady for a speeding violation and when the officer runs the name tag, a traffic violation comes up and they can arrest her, but her two kids are sitting in the back seat.
“So, the question is, when you look in the backseat and you see that she has two kids in the backseat, maybe a six-year-old. seven-year-old child, and she has a warrant for his arrest for a minor traffic violation,” Paul said.
“The response that I am looking for in that situation is that taking her to jail should not be an option, because at that moment in time, it’s not about the 50-dollar ticket that she failed to pay two years ago,” he said. “It’s not about her being irresponsible and not paying her fare at that moment in time. It’s about those babies and it’s about the trauma they’re going to experience. When you put their mom in handcuffs in front of them and have to call social services, just ask yourself, is it worth it at this time?
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