Baton Rouge murder rates declined by more than 20 percent in 2013, and LSU researchers have been intimately involved in contributing to this reduction. In an unparalleled partnership with a large group of municipal and non-profit agencies, LSU researchers provide law enforcement officers and other officials with research that directly aids the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination, or BRAVE, program’s effectiveness. Since BRAVE’s implementation in June 2012, the city’s most troubled areas – the 70805 and 70802 zip codes – has seen a 20 percent overall decrease in murder rates.
BRAVE was created to reduce and eliminate violent crime committed by juveniles, ages 14-17, in small communities within Baton Rouge. The program focuses on the area within the 70805 zip code, which alone compromises 13.5 percent of the Baton Rouge population and is accountable for 30 percent of the city’s homicides. In an effort to lower this rate, LSU researchers have been assisting law enforcement by providing research helping them to:
1) Identify primary offenders and their affiliation with specific groups and gangs:
“Research shows that people within two handshakes (or two degrees of separation) of a murder victim are 900 times more likely to be involved in a future murder.”
– Tracey Rizzuto, associate professor of Human Resource & Leadership Development
Rizzuto is an organizational psychologist who serves as the social network analyst for BRAVE. Social network analysis maps social relations, arrest records and other patterns of criminal behavior to determine and visualize the web of connectivity among criminal suspects and victims and uncover key players who are at highest risk for committing violent acts. This allows law enforcement to target those at highest risk for committing serious crimes, using their limited resources more efficiently.
2) Analyze geographic patterns of violent crime committed by these offenders through GIS mapping:
“Place is rapidly increasing in significance for crime research. At LSU, we value organic approaches to our GIS research which highlights unique environments within Baton Rouge. For us, Baton Rouge is not simply a place, but it is our home. Through this lens, we are motivated to produce research which assists our law enforcement community and contributes to improving the lives of all citizens who call Baton Rouge home.”
-Fahui Wang, chair of the department of Geography & Anthropology
-Shaun Williams, Ph.D. student in the department of Geography & Anthropology
Wang and Williams serve as GIS analysts and researchers for BRAVE. They customized a GIS environment exclusively for East Baton Rouge Parish to leverage an extensive set of spatial data to monitor, track and investigate locations of crime hotspots and patterns within parish neighborhoods. This allows law enforcement to geographically concentrate their resources in the highest crime areas, instead of spreading them out over large geographic areas, many of which have very little or no violent crime.
3) Tracking offenders over time and space to allow law enforcement to engage in smart policing:
“Violent offenders operate in patterns that not only allow us to predict their next offense, but also where it will take place. Understanding these patterns allows law enforcement officials to be more proactive in their approach.”
-Ed Shihadeh, chair, Department of Sociology
“I am pleased to say that when using a 30-day running average, every single day in 2013 was less violent than each day in 2012.”
-Anthony Reed, Ph.D. student, Department of Sociology
Shihadeh is a criminologist and mathematical demographer who analyzes individual patterns of criminal offenders, and tracks crime rates over time and geographically. He and his student, Anthony Reed, have developed a complex index that identifies the most violent offenders calibrated by the geographic and temporal patterns of their crimes, as well as the nature of their social networks to provide a ‘hot list’ to law enforcement of the most dangerous offenders and where they are most likely to offend geographically.
Using the data from the police department and sheriff’s office, Shihadeh and Reed develop a list of the most dangerous areas in town, down to the neighborhood and street level. They also keep track of police districts and time of day offending to optimize police resources in terms of deployment, keep track of gang crimes and areas where each gang primarily offends, and help identify some of the most active offenders in Baton Rouge. Lastly, they keep a running tally of arrests, victimization and types of crime to compare to 2012.
4) Evaluate the outcomes of individual offender intervention and overall impact of BRAVE on the community:
“You earn a community’s trust and cooperation through demonstrating your commitment to helping them. With BRAVE, we constantly work to show our impact on the everyday lives of people in these communities.”
-Juan Barthelemy, assistant professor of social work
Barthelemy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who serves as an evaluator for the BRAVE project. He is also responsible for working with the community to determine the perception of the impact of the BRAVE project. This information is collected through surveys and focus groups with residents in the target population. This information is useful for understanding relations between law enforcement and the target population.
“The outcome I am most pleased about (other than the reduction in violent crime) is the partnership that has developed between the City (Mayor’s office), the District Attorney, the Police Chief and the Sheriff,” said Cecile Guin, BRAVE grant leader and director of LSU’s Office of Social Service Research and Development. “Without this partnership and the leadership of the public officials, we would not be where we are today. Without dedicated cooperation among the public officials, this would not work.”
Guin is the principal investigator of BRAVE grants. She and her team serve as grant writers and proposal directors for the program. The group includes Mary Ellen Brown, graduate assistant in the LSU School of Social Work; Carson Garand, LSU Child & Family Studies undergraduate intern; Judith Rhodes, assistant professor-research, School of Social Work; Sam Robinson, research associate, SSW, a Ph.D. in political science from LSU; and Jada Smith, BRAVE project coordinator. Another key LSU player is criminologist, professor of sociology and Senior Associate Vice Chancellor of Research & Economic Development Matthew Lee, who uses his expertise as a criminologist to advise on program implementation, serves as one of the liaisons to the municipal agencies, and who serves as one of the media spokesperson’s for the project.
BRAVE, and the research associated with it, has a real opportunity to impact communities through expansion. In August 2013, the program received a $1 million grant from the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation group. The goals of the grant are to (1) improve public health and safety through the reduction of crime and violence; (2) to deter future crime by addressing the social drivers of crime; and (3) to build a partnership that would support complete neighborhood revitalization.
In September of 2013, BRAVE and LSU officials received a $1.5 million grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to extend BRAVE to zip code 70802. And in November 2013, they received a neighborhood revitalization project grant from the Department of Housing & Urban Development for $500,000.
The team hasn’t slowed down from their success, though. In fact, they are writing many more grant submissions with the goal of truly changing the environment of these troubled areas.
“The more success we have brings down more federal grants to support the good work our entire BRAVE family is involved in,” said Guin. “These grants represent real change for neighborhoods in need of relief.”