BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The BRAVE Program is largely meeting its goals of reducing group crime violence though there are still areas in need of improvement, according to a new LSU study.
Data in the report reveals that, since the program was enacted, crime connected with groups and gangs has largely d ropped.
"At this point, BRAVE has been successful in what we've attempted to do," said Dr. Cecile Guin.
Guin oversaw the report, which assesses the program's first two years. Guin was also involved in writing the gr ant proposals that first got the BRAVE program off the ground.
BRAVE, which stands for Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination, was first introduced in 2012 and 2013 and is centered in the 70805 and 70802 zip codes. The program works to connect parish leaders and law enforcement with communities in hopes of fighting crime.
The program encourages younger members of the community to step away from violence, while using police intervention if they ultimately do not.
"If the violent criminals and violent kids believe that it is too risky, they're going to stop the amount of violent they commit," Guin said.
The Mayor's Office, District Attorney, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, the Baton Rouge Police Department, the U.S. Attorney's Office, and LSU researchers are all involved in overseeing the project. Community organizations, including the Dream Center and Hope Ministries, also play a role.
Violent crime numbers are down parish-wide, especially in the areas where BRAVE is in place.
Comparing the average crime rates in the three years leading up to the start of the program (2010-2012), the last two years have seen drastic d rops in robberies, aggravated assault, and illegal weapon use in both zip codes.
Illegal weapon use d ropped greatly, including 54 percent in 70805 and 72 percent in 70802.
"We were really fortunate to see a d rop in the first year. Most of the cities it takes 10 years, 12, 16 years to see a significant return, and we saw one immediately," said District Attorney Hillar Moore.
Programs similar to BRAVE are located in many different cities, including New Orleans.
Homicide numbers are also largely down. In 70805, they d ropped from 17 in 2013 to 12 in 2014. Meanwhile, in 70802, they went up from 10 in 2013 to 19 in 2014. Moore and Guin both said that may be attributed to the d rop in 70805, with homicides moving flowing out of one zip code to the bordering one.
Aside from crime intervention and prevention, the program also aims to help teenagers and young adults who choose to walk away from a violent lifestyle. In the first two years, 36 young adults began to see case workers provided through the BRAVE program. At least 10 got jobs, while several others went back to school.
Guin said those numbers were surprisingly high. In other cities where BRAVE-like programs were enacted, not as many young adults came forward in the first year, she said.
Guin said in those communities, it took years to build trust. With help from places like Hope Ministries, which had been in the community for years, they were able to start with an embedded sense of trust.
"People knew them and weren't afraid of them," Guin said.
Despite the successes, data from the report shows that 70802 and 70805 are still the hotbeds of crime in the parish.
"A lot of people who work on this project, they want results now," Guin said. "I'm like it doesn't work that way."
Focus groups reveal that many community members still do not know about the program.
The report also states the following:
"We need to make sure the community understands there are two completely different sides. One is the community involvement, the outreach, and the second is the law enforcement side," Moore said.
Moore said that in order to keep the program on track, leaders and law enforcement need to continue to play a role in the community and to continue working form connections.
"If you take your foot off any moment, any night, it will raise up its head again," he said.
"If BRAVE went away, I don't know that it would stay down," Guin said. "It has to be sustained."
Another concern is money. As the gr ants dry up in the next two years, Moore said they need to find more money to keep the program alive. That money, he said, may require a commitment from local government if the federal funding ends.
"That's where we're going to have to make big decisions," Moore said.
The study also indicates other problems to be addressed.
For instance, Moore and Guin both suggest that real time crime data would be helpful in improving the BRAVE programs effectiveness. At this time, parish law enforcement does not have necessary equipment to do such.
Guin also said that some religious organizations were not always as consistent in their commitment to the program, though she noted that programs like Cops and Clergy helped improve relationships between law enforcement and community church leaders.
"It is such a labor intensive process," Guin said.