BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Scott Wilfong is the President of the Wedgewood Civic Association and says over the last year and a half he and his neighbors have noticed a big change.
"It's been horrible and I see them popping up everywhere," said Wilfong.
Wilfong is referring to several smoke and novelty shops on Hewwood Avenue and O'Neal lane that sell synthetic compounds advertised as aroma therapy. Some of the mixtures are legal and branded not for consumption on the packaging but Wilfong says left over wrappers near the stores are proof they are being smoked in the area and that he believes has led to increased crime in the Wedgewood neighborhood.
"You don't want to label anyone but the crime statistics bear it out. We've seen an increase in citations and arrests and all sorts of what I would call petty crime but petty crime leads to major crime and that's what we're afraid of," said Wilfong.
Statistics provided to Wilfong by Baton Rouge Police appear to back up his claims. In just over two months' time, officers made three fugitive arrests and three more drug arrests in areas connected to Wedgewood. Police issued 78 citations over that time and about 95 percent came from the Hewwood Avenue and O'Neal Lane area.
Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso represents the residents in the Wedgewood neighborhood and says he counted 8 shops that sell synthetic packets in his district. Amoroso adds similar spikes in crime are common near all of those locations.
"We have people that live in the area very afraid they've had home break-ins and things stolen out of their house, car break-ins so it has really hurt the local subdivisions," said Amoroso.
Wilfong says many of the folks who live in the nearly 500 home Wedgewood subdivision have been here for years but adds he gets calls daily from some who tell him the uptick in crime in the area has them thinking about packing up and moving.
"We're telling our police officers, we're telling our council people that we need some help here and I'm sure they're doing all they can do but you know we don't want it to be a tragedy that they are responding to," said Wilfong.
Wilfong says the ultimate solution for these synthetic mixtures will have to come from lawmakers and Amoroso agrees, adding this is an issue worth creating new restrictions.
"Typically I'm not a regulation type of guy but this is something to me is a very legitimate function of government that we need to go ahead to work towards putting these types of stores out of business," said Amoroso.