Partnership for the Prevention of Juvenile Gun Violence -- Baton Rouge, LA
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In recent years, Baton Rouge experienced dramatic increases in the number of youth involved in violent crimes. Between 1992 and 1996, the number of juveniles (under 16 years of age) arrested annually in East Baton Rouge Parish increased 61 percent, from 2,931 to 4,716. In 1996, one-fourth of the 1,179 juveniles arrested were multiple offenders. Sixteen percent of these juveniles had committed a total of 940 violent crimes, including 14 homicides, 51 armed robberies, and 132 aggravated assaults; and 122 juveniles committed 192 weapons violations. Of the 71 homicides in Baton Rouge in 1996, 13 were committed by youth under the age of 21, and 18 involved a young victim. More than two-thirds of the city's homicides occurred in two ZIP code areas.
In response, law enforcement, city officials, community agencies, and grassroots volunteers joined together, with funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), to form the Baton Rouge Partnership for the Prevention of Juvenile Gun Violence. The partnership targeted multiple-offender youth up to age 21 from two high-crime ZIP code areas.
Because the effects of juvenile violence are felt by the entire community, the partnership felt that solutions to the problem must involve a communitywide effort by a collaboration of agency and community stakeholders. No single organization or agency could address all the risk factors associated with juvenile violence. The partnership thus designed a comprehensive strategy with four specific goals:
The organizational structure of the Baton Rouge partnership emerged from the project strategies that were developed during several program development workshops involving law enforcement, the courts, the juvenile justice system, community service providers, and the faith community. The structure of the partnership is simple and informal, consisting of two standing committees with specified decisionmaking responsibilities: the Executive Committee (program policy or planning) and the Judicial Advisory Committee (legal advice and planning). The program also has several task forces -- Enforcement, Intervention, and Prevention -- which are responsible for operational decisions in carrying out the comprehensive plan. A fourth community mobilization task force, ACT NOW, is a new grassroots organization chaired by a pastor who represents the African-American Baptist churches in the target areas. The Baton Rouge Chief of Police chairs the partnership.
The gun violence suppression strategies
The partnership seeks to reduce juvenile gun-related and other violent crimes through a three-pronged suppression strategy: (1) identify and monitor, through intensive probation and law enforcement surveillance, the small group of serious, violent, and chronic young offenders who have committed multiple felony offenses; (2) reduce access to illegal guns and the incidence of juveniles carrying illegal guns by identifying and closing gun distribution sources; and (3) expedite the judicial response to those offenders involved in gun-related offenses, including expedited prosecution in Federal court when possible. The partnership has implemented the following suppression activities.
The Eiger strategy is a high-intensity probation and parole effort that targets an identified group of chronic young violent offenders identified as Eigers. (Eiger is a reference to a mountain of the same name, which is one of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb.) Three-member police/probation pilot teams make regular and intensive contacts with the Eigers and their parents. Additionally, Operation Eiger teams contact an identified group of non-Eiger youth who are at risk of becoming serious, habitual offenders. The strategy facilitates an immediate response to delinquent behavior when it occurs. As of September 1998, 311 Eigers have been identified, 198 juveniles and 113 young adults. A total of 9,570 home visits were made by Operation Eiger teams during their first year with the monthly average number of contacts per Eiger ranging from 3.3 in the first month of implementation to more than 6 during the last 3 months of the reporting period. The percentage of Eiger contacts in which no violations were reported increased from 56 percent in September 1997 to 71 percent in September 1998.
Although Operation Eiger does not aggregate data by type of violation, it is estimated that 80 percent of violations were for curfew violation, disobeying parents, failure to notify a parent of whereabouts, and truancy. The remaining 20 percent were for more serious infractions such as failing a drug screening, associating with prohibited persons, and committing a new offense. Through the first quarter of 1998, 14 Eigers (9.5 percent) have been incarcerated on new adult offenses -- a figure considerably less than the expected recidivism for this group of repeat violent offenders.
Gun Tracing Initiative
Every gun acquired at the scene of a crime or otherwise seized is submitted to ATF, which -- in partnership with the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) -- ascertains where the gun came from and who purchased it. BRPD completes the tracing forms and submits them to ATF. During the first year of the partnership, from July 1, 1997, to June 30, 1998, 1,291 guns were seized. All of the gun seizures were mapped by street location, showing that 620 (54.5 percent) came from within the target areas. Guns were linked to 790 known offenders in Baton Rouge. The gun seizure data also revealed the following information:
Gun Permits Application Initiative
Partnership staff and the Sheriff's Office review all applications for gun permits, providing information to Federal, State, and local agencies on persons known to have felony records or known to be associating with felons. Between January 1 and September 1, 1998, the partnership collected data on the 329 denied applications for gun permits and found that 34.2 percent of these denied applications were for residents in the target areas. These data were correlated with ATF offender indices to provide additional profiles on violent offenders.
School Drug Task Force
This special unit of the Police Department implements the school system's newly enacted zero tolerance policy in 99 public schools with a 199798 enrollment of nearly 56,000 students. During that school year, the task force arrested 202 students for weapons, drugs, or violent offenses on school grounds and conducted 16 school-based, antidrug, antiviolence prevention programs. About 30 percent of the 202 students arrested were girls. The increasing number of female delinquents (24.7 percent of all juveniles arrested by city police in 1997) is the focus of several planned intervention and prevention strategies.
Operation Takedown's primary focus is on street-level narcotic sales in the target areas, thereby reducing the incidence of drug-related gun violence. Forty-three Baton Rouge police officers were assigned to the program starting August 15, 1997. Eight of these officers also were assigned to Operation Eiger to work with adult and juvenile probation officers in the target area. During the 13-month period from April 1, 1997, through April 30, 1998, 1,158 arrests were made under Operation Takedown; 796 (68.7 percent) were from the partnership's target areas. During this period, 117 guns were confiscated, with 61.5 percent of them from the target areas. In addition, $26,329 in cash was seized during the period along with drugs with a street value of $120,411.
Judicial advisory committee
The partnership has formed a judicial advisory committee, including the District Attorney and three judges, to collaborate with the law enforcement, intervention, and prevention task forces, and to advise on issues relating to firearm and drug offenses. The committee also advises on issues related to jail space, increased workload, and justice system reform. The committee has prepared draft reformed juvenile court procedures and a position paper on a court-based mentoring program called Reclaiming Our Youth. The committee also has prepared a grant application to establish a juvenile drug court in Baton Rouge. More important, the juvenile judges have instituted a practice of writing probation orders using suspended jail sentences so that any violation of the terms of probation can result in a rearrest and immediate incarceration. While this zero tolerance policy is creating an overcrowding problem in the 55-bed juvenile detention facility and in the adult jail, talks are under way to contract with the private sector for additional detention and jail facilities. A committee established by the metro council is developing plans for more specialized group homes.
Intervention and prevention strategies
The partnership's gun violence intervention strategies seek to address risk factors that contribute to the violent behaviors of the identified Eigers through a three-pronged approach: (1) provide intensive intervention services for the Eigers to address their alienation and rebelliousness, propensity for violence, association with peers who engage in high-risk behaviors, academic failure, unemployment, and lack of social and interpersonal skills; (2) strengthen the Eiger families to instill moral values and support their children by intervening in family conflicts and dysfunctional relationships and alcohol and drug abuse; and (3) build resiliency in the community by intervening to address risk factors that include attitudes and conditions favorable to drug use, gun violence, community disorganization, low neighborhood attachment, and economic deprivation. The following specific strategies have been implemented.
Case management and intervention services
Case management services were initially designed to facilitate the reintegration of Eigers into the community. However, during the first year only a small number of Eigers were targeted for prerelease strategies because so few of them were incarcerated in local facilities. (Most were incarcerated elsewhere in the State.) A decision was made to shift the focus from prerelease/aftercare to intervention services for the entire Eiger population. The partnership thus sought to identify specific risk factors for all of the 205 Eigers. A case management specialist developed individual service plans (ISP's) that address factors identified in the risk and needs assessments. Individual needs assessments were completed for 138 juvenile Eigers and 106 young adult Eigers ages 17 to 21. Seventy-two ISP's have been completed to date. In addition, interviews and periodic meetings were held with 51 Eigers and their parents. Intervention services in the first year included substance abuse evaluations and treatment, a chemical awareness clinic, an anger management clinic, a crime prevention clinic, psychological evaluations and counseling, family counseling, preemployment job skills training, and job training and placement. These programs included the following:
The community mobilization strategy
The partnership seeks to mobilize the community at the grassroots level as part of an overall strategy to address the problems of hard-to-reach families and highest risk youth by (1) involving youth and families in identifying and helping resolve gun violence issues in their neighborhoods and encouraging accountability at the street level; (2) identifying organizations and resources that individuals and families in the target area can turn to for help in dealing with their respective risk factors; (3) addressing residents' negative attitudes about what they perceive as law enforcement's lack of interest and involvement in solving neighborhood crime; and (4) implementing a public information strategy that will garner community support and publicize positive outcomes of grassroots initiatives. Activities include community forums, community surveys, community help/hotspot identification phone line, media coverage on program activities, and school presentations.
The partnership members have increased their visibility in the target communities and have collaborated with local civic groups to sponsor community forums and respond to community-defined problems. The Baton Rouge Chief of Police has attended many community forums, and several police officers maintain a presence in the targeted communities. In addition, community members have been encouraged to identify hotspots and individuals engaged in criminal activities as part of the suppression efforts.
The partnership has established a relationship with ACT NOW, whose principal leaders also are members in the partnership. Fifty-four grassroots leaders and more than 400 residents from the community and faith groups have joined together to form ACT NOW, following the January 1998 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Day parade shootings at which an 8-year-old girl died and several others were injured. This is a significant organizational outcome for the partnership. Several members of the partnership are chairs of or active participants in the ACT NOW committees. Although ACT NOW is broader and reaches out to more neighborhoods and families than the partnership's target areas, they have agreed to focus their primary attention on the Eiger youth, their families, and siblings.
Anti-gun violence public information campaign
As part of an overall public awareness program, the partnership has established strong relationships with local newspaper and radio stations and has cooperated to provide information for a number of articles and announcements about violence-related issues.
The number of homicides in Baton Rouge dropped 17 percent from 1996 to 1997, from 71 murders in 1996 to 59 in 1997. Of these, 10 (17 percent) involved a suspect under the age of 21, and 14 (24 percent) involved a victim under the age of 21. The number of aggravated assaults dropped 43 percent (to 1,135 incidents), with 995 involving firearms. One hundred sixty-nine youth (under 21) were involved in these firearm-related aggravated assaults, down 30 percent from the previous year. Preliminary data for 1998 suggest significant reduction in firearm-related crimes. There were 34 homicides and 399 firearm-involved aggravated assaults through September 1998. Only 50 youth (under 21) were involved in these firearm-related assaults. These reductions in homicides, aggravated assaults, and other firearm-related crimes cannot be directly attributed to any one of these programs, but are more likely related to the cumulative impact of a comprehensive, multipronged approach.