Derelict and Dangerous

   

The media pan has stopped briefly to focus on the tragic event involving Lafayette Police Department Officer Brian Rozas who was run over by a vehicle and dragged around 100 feet while lodged under the vehicle earlier this month. The incident occurred after the driver of the vehicle that struck Rozas, Jaylin Chavis, allegedly attempted to evade police only to drive into a roadblock. The vehicle operated by Chavis then began traveling in reverse striking Rozas. Chavis was arrested and booked on multiple charges. It is alleged that Chavis was operating the vehicle under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Rozas likely faces a long road to recovery. While media attention of the incident will fade rapidly, for Rozas and other law enforcement officers the memory will remain strong for years to come.

It was a matter of time…

For the many police officers who work the downtown Lafayette area it was just a matter of time before another situation of this magnitude occurred. Some would call it a self-fulfilling prophecy or a sort of pygmalion effect. However, from a statistical standpoint crime is on the rise.

The FBI through its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program collects information on two basic categories of crime: 1) violent crimes; and 2) property crimes. Data collected on violent crimes consist of information about murders, robberies, rapes and crimes against persons involving the use of weapons, which they term as “aggravated assaults”. The information collected with regards to property crimes is also narrowly tailored to certain offenses which include arsons, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts. The program which has been providing crime statistics since 1930 operates strictly on voluntary compliance relying on participating agencies to submit their crime data either through a state UCR program or directly to the FBI’s UCR Program.

Crime Data Transparency in Louisiana is lacking

So, when it comes to the topic of police transparency just where does Louisiana stack up? First, the FBI reports there are 187 police agencies in the state of Louisiana, a number itself which appears to be greatly under-reported. Each of the 64 parishes in Louisiana have at least one law enforcement agency operated under the direction of the Sheriff with a much greater number of municipal agencies and university police departments in operation across the state. According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2011, entitled “Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008” (yes, it apparently took them three years to compile the data) there were 348 state and local law enforcement agencies in operation, 250 of which were not state agencies or Sheriff’s Offices. For the sake of comparing apples to apples, of the 187 police agencies in Louisiana outlined by the FBI, only 70 agencies (or 37%) reported crime statistics – a 55.7% increase in voluntary reporting when compared to the previous year when only 39 agencies self-reported. In fact, for each and every year over the last decade less than 40 of the hundreds of police agencies in the state have failed to self-report crime data to the FBI for inclusion in the UCR Program report.

When compared to our border states, Louisiana law enforcement agencies are failing miserably in the area of transparency when it comes to reporting local crime rates. Of the 1,062 law enforcement agencies reported by the FBI to be in existence in Texas, 76% self-reported crime statistics to the UCR Program. Of the 113 police agencies in Mississippi, 73% self-reported and Arkansas gets to boast about a 100% self-reporting rate amongst its 281 police agencies.

So, is crime soaring in Louisiana? Are we experiencing a crime wave? It certainly appears that way based on the data made available by participating law enforcement agencies. The 5.6% increase in violent crime reported by the FBI across the nation in 2020 is dwarfed by the increase in violent crime reported in Louisiana. When compared with the data from Louisiana in 2019 homicide offenses increased 50%, aggravated assault offenses increased 117% and overall violent offenses increased 92.3%. An overall increase in property offenses is also reported with a 51.5% increase being reported. Motor vehicles thefts are up 98.3%, with larcenies and burglaries both increased to about 48.5%. While a portion of these increases may be explained away by the 13% increase in Louisiana law enforcement agencies self-reporting this year, it certainly doesn’t explain all which has and is occurring in our communities. The mainstream media remains largely silent on the topic and is being aided by the changing of terms by academia to fit the narrative (i.e. “There was no crime wave—there was a tsunami of lethal violence, and that’s it,” – a crime expert at Duke University), but rest assured there was a significant increase in the number of reported crimes in Louisiana and violent crimes across the nation for 2020.

Is local government to blame?

According to at least one police officer, who took to social media following the incident involving LPD Officer Rozas, local government is partially to blame. While the criminal is always ultimately responsible for his actions, the officer’s remarks should be given careful consideration. It is not the Mayor-President, Chief of Police or even the City Council who his remarks seem to be aimed at, but rather another government body.

Officer Brock Richard indicates “…we have an organization who is tasked with keeping the downtown of Lafayette beautiful and vibrant. This organization is not tasked with safety.” Richard continues: “I am saying this from experience when tons of suggestions were afforded but zero things were done to improve anything. I personally spoke with a member of this organization. I told her that it’s like they have two versions of downtown [Lafayette]. The day time one which they love and want people to attend various events…and the night time one which is unsafe and violent. The outcome of this conversation resulted with me being banned from working any event in which this organization sponsored.” The organization Richard seems to be referencing is the DDA – Lafayette’s Downtown Development Authority.

Richard goes on: “I’m posting this because my department has done everything above and beyond to make a change. Our leaders have thought outside the box and attempted to make a safe environment. When it’s time to put this plan in motion, like cutting trees so more lights can get through, or removing rails so people can’t sit and cause problems, these things don’t happen. Sure we have a ton of cameras in the area but a camera will only be used to help identify a suspect not prevent crime.”

Richard squarely places blame at the feet of this organization. And while a simple request for additional lighting in the downtown area to assist with officer safety falls on deaf ears, the DDA has handed out tens of thousand of dollars from the public treasury to fund facades and signage for local property/business owners. However, in all fairness, it is not the DDA that should shoulder the entire portion of blame attributed to the government. While the DDA squanders tax resources that could be used to fund safety improvements in the downtown area, it is ultimately the Lafayette City Council that has failed to take action.

The Lafayette City Council is the governmental body ultimately responsible for the City of Lafayette. The City Council has had constructive notice of the safety issues posed in the downtown area for many years but has ignored them. Whether they have deliberately chosen to pawn off or shift the blame to the DDA is subject to debate. But they have certainly demonstrated indifference despite having knowledge of these issues and remain derelict in their duties to address the situation. In fact, in August of 2021 the City Council unanimously appointed four individuals to the seven member board, at least two of which were already serving. Such reappointments send a signal that the Lafayette City Council is pleased with the policies being enacted by the DDA board. Otherwise a reasonable person would have expected changes in leadership. Not only is the Lafayette City Council derelict in their duties, they have also set a dangerous precedent of allowing issues of public safety to be unduly influenced by the DDA.

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