Landry ran as a tough on crime governor. Is he doing enough to keep Baton Rouge safe?

BATON ROUGE — During Jeff Landry’s landslide victory as governor of Louisiana, crime stood as one of the cornerstone platforms that propelled him to the governor’s mansion.

Throughout the campaign, Landry ran aggressive advertisements featuring crime victims praising his tough-on-crime stance as Louisiana’s Attorney General. Notably, the first television commercial his campaign aired featured Landry highlighting his law enforcement background, declaring to voters, “When DAs fail to prosecute, when judges fail to act, when police are handcuffed instead of the criminals, enough is enough. We’re going to hold everyone, and I mean everyone, accountable for violent crime.”

To Landry’s credit, he has underscored the issue of crime in the state during his first 90 days. He took decisive action by convening a special session in February solely dedicated to his public safety agenda. During this session, a flurry of legislation was introduced aimed at combating crime. Lawmakers worked at a rapid pace, passing approximately 20 bills by suspending rules to expedite the legislative process, all with the goal of reducing crime.

“Last year I promised the people of this state, if elected Governor, I would do everything within my power to improve the safety of our communities through legislative and executive action,” Landry said at the end of the special session. “Today, the good citizens of Louisiana who work hard and play by the rules will be able to pump their gas without fear.”

Despite having a comprehensive agenda aimed at addressing crime across the entire state, Landry’s focus has notably been on New Orleans, which he mentioned 10 times during his address to lawmakers. By contrast, Baton Rouge was mentioned only twice.

In that address, Landry emphasized the significance of New Orleans on the global stage, stating, “Ask anyone in the world where Louisiana is and some may hesitate, but ask them where New Orleans is, and they know instantly. It is one of our greatest treasures. Restoring it to greatness and glory is a tide that will lift all boats.”

Landry pledged to secure New Orleans and proposed the establishment of a permanent state police troop in the city to assist the understaffed New Orleans Police Department.

Since January, state troopers have been actively patrolling New Orleans. Although officials have refrained from disclosing specific numbers of troopers on the streets, likening it to a “military” strategy where revealing the battle plan could compromise effectiveness, Louisiana State Police Superintendent Robert Hodges told WWL-TV that he anticipates “the presence of uniformed troopers [will be] evident moving forward.”

Could a Troop Baton Rouge help?

It’s still too early to determine if the newly established Troop NOLA is making a significant impact on reducing crime in New Orleans. However, the additional troops and visible presence of uniformed officers in the Crescent City have been positively received by NOPD Superintendent Anne Kirkpatrick and city leaders, who have commended Governor Landry’s proactive measures.

“Having a permanent troop in New Orleans is the only way that I see to keep the city safe over the next decade,” Landry emphasized.

The primary objective of the troop is to assist in responding to calls for service and to decrease response times. Additionally, troopers are contributing to initiatives aimed at combating violent crime. The concept for the troop originated from Landry’s New Orleans transition council, which identified crime as one of the city’s most pressing issues.

Former Baton Rouge Police Chief Pat Englade, who currently serves as president of the Capital Area Law Enforcement Foundation, believes that a similar strategy to Troop NOLA could be effective in Baton Rouge, particularly in terms of enhancing police visibility.

“If you’re aiming for a police presence on every corner, then yes, it could work,” Englade stated. “There was a time when I pulled everyone out of their offices, shutting down every other minor task, and directed our focus back to the streets. Officers who hadn’t patrolled in years were reassigned to the streets of Baton Rouge because that’s essentially what you have to do in a crisis.”

He advocates for a stronger police presence akin to Troop NOLA to serve as a deterrent to crime. However, Englade contends that the root of the problem lies in the “bad characters” identified by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and Baton Rouge Police Chief TJ Morse as the primary instigators of crime and homicides in Baton Rouge.

READ MORE: “Pray for this city” | After violent weekend & growing homicide numbers, leaders address Baton Rouge crime wave

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“When discussing community policing, in my view, it’s crucial to assign officers who are familiar with the individuals causing trouble in those areas and the impact they have on the community,” Englade explained. “Having investigated violent crimes for years, I believe it’s essential to understand the troubled areas and the individuals residing there. That’s where you gather the intelligence necessary to solve crimes, not just by patrolling, but by actively engaging with the community.”

Police officer shortage

The ‘boots on the ground’ approach presents a significant challenge for the Baton Rouge Police Department, as it does for many other cities, due to a shortage of officers. The police shortage in New Orleans is one of the major reasons Landry’s task force recommended more officers on the streets.

Despite plans to increase officer pay by nearly 15% since 2021 and offering a $10,000 new hire bonus, Baton Rouge has experienced a decline in the number of officers on the force. There are approximately 100 vacancies inside the department.

Baton Rouge Police spokesperson L’Jean McKneely tells UWK that as of April 1, 2024, there are 569 officers in the department. BRPD is allotted for 696 officers with an average of 650.

“When you’re down 200 police officers and facing ongoing attrition- you’re going to have people retire, you’re going to have people quitting, you’re going to have people transferring away — while factoring in the limitations on how many police academies can be run each year due to time constraints, it becomes clear that the ability to replenish the force is severely constrained,” Englade said. “Realistically, you can only put approximately 60 officers back on the streets in a year’s time. In reality, this number has been even lower in recent years, closer to around 20. So you’re never going to get back to where you were at, or anywhere close to where we were at at one point based on the current math.”

“Working to put an end to the crime epidemic”

UWK reached out to Governor Landry’s office about the crime problem in Baton Rouge. The governor told us, “From day one, we ran on working to put an end to the crime epidemic that is plaguing our state. The work accomplished during our crime special session is a step in the right direction, but it is only the beginning. We will continue to support our law enforcement, deliver justice to victims of crime, and make our streets safer for everyone.”

The governor nor his spokesperson discussed future plans for curtailing crime in Baton Rouge. With a homicide rate swelling to historic levels in Baton Rouge and the police department facing a dwindling number of officers, it’s a legitimate question to ask: Is Baton Rouge being overlooked or neglected?

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