BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Does the Baton Rouge Police Department track the number of shootings that happen in the city? It has become the question with multiple answers. BRPD says it hasn’t always kept track, but it does now. A former statistician for the department says it does. WAFB has been trying to get the truth on what’s really the case.
This all started after a violent weekend at the end of June in which five shootings sent 13 people to area hospitals. Thankfully, no one died, but it did trigger a councilman’s interest in how many non-fatal shootings happen in Baton Rouge. Fast forward nearly a month, and that councilman has been told some of those statistics don’t exist... or do they?
During the last weekend of June, seven people were shot at a nightclub on Florida Boulevard. Between that Friday and Monday, five different shootings sent 13 people to the hospital. The following day, officials held a press conference to address the violent weekend.
“I want to, as your mayor-president, convey a feeling of measured calm. Certainly we have challenges, but this is not Gotham City,” East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.
Broome and several law enforcement officials held a town hall style meeting stressing violent crime was down despite that one weekend. Councilman Matt Watson was also present at that meeting.
“I’ve spoken with police officers and they tell me, which is reiterated by somebody at the DA’s office, that the real litmus test for how violent your community is isn’t the homicide rate, but the number of shootings,” he said.
After several phone calls with numerous people, Councilman Watson was told the information had to be approved for release by BRPD Chief Murphy Paul or through a records request to force the release. So the next day, several emails were exchanged between the councilman and police chief.
MATT WATSON: “Good afternoon chief, I need to get statistics for the last 3 years on shootings where someone was struck by a bullet but was able to survive the injury.”
CHIEF MURPHY PAUL: “Matt, we do not have that information readily available.”
WATSON: “I know you have that information. The next step is a very public records request.”
PAUL (IN PART): “If you provide the name of the person who told you that I have this information then we can go directly to the source and provide you the information quickly.”
Getting nowhere with the chief, Watson put in a records request for the number of non-fatal shootings from 2017 to present. Despite saying the information wasn’t readily available, the following week, Chief Paul discussed those numbers at the Baton Rouge Press Club.
“We started keeping those stats and it’s growing even in 2019. We keep it a little more than we did last year, so we do have those stats. Right now, with non-fatal injuries, not incidents, but injuries, those people who were injured, we’re probably at a 27% increase compared to last year,” Paul said.
“To give the chief the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he doesn’t know where to look to get this data or you could say again, that it’s not something that feeds the narrative that our city’s not as violent,” Watson said.
Twenty days after he put in his request, Watson was provided with the numbers. There were 193 non-fatal shootings in 2018. Through the end of June of 2019, there were 129. Chief Paul offered an explanation for 2017′s missing numbers: “BRPD does not have available responsive data for 2017 because it was not previously captured.”
KIRAN: “Is that true?"
PHILLIP DEPRATO: ”Not to my knowledge, no ma’am."
KIRAN: “Why do you say that?”
DEPRATO: “Because it’s captured in the database. It’s absolutely captured.”
Deprato served as BRPD’s crime statistician for 15 years before retiring in 2018.
DEPRATO: “The information is available. We’ve collected information on assaults with firearms by the UCR standards and as a part of that, we capture if someone was shot or not. That’s the case all the way back to 1998. That information is captured.”
KIRAN: “We had requested an interview with the police chief. Can you tell us why you’re doing this interview instead?”
JONNY DUNNAM: “I’m the second in charge. The chief is busy. There are times when people come, interviews, want to meet with the chief and we have to schedule things right now two to three weeks out.”
Deputy Chief Jonny Dunnam reiterated they have not kept 2017 numbers adding they did not start keeping track of non-fatal shooting numbers till may 2018.
KIRAN: “So are you saying that prior to Chief Paul coming in and starting that, the Baton Rouge Police Department has never kept any records of non-fatal shootings?”
DUNNAM: “Non-fatal shootings, no, we have not.”
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW BETWEEN KIRAN CHAWLA AND JONNY DUNNAM BELOW.
But at least two former Baton Rouge police chiefs say otherwise. To prove they did not keep numbers, Dunnam attempted to discredit Deprato.
“I want to show you an email that I sent to Phillip Deprato back on January 23, 2017, asking him specifically about non-fatal shootings, non-fatal gunshot victims,” Dunnam said.
Dunnam went on to say he was trying to get answers to a records request.
“Phillip Deprato sent me back an email stating, ‘No, we don’t track this.’ So that is January 23, 2017, so if Phillip Deprato is telling you that, he’s lying. You can keep a copy of that,” Dunnam said.
The email below is what WAFB was given.
The request asked for several different things, including date, number of victims, address, and even the latitude and longitude of where the incidents occurred. That’s what Deprato says he responded to, saying they do not track all those things. He told WAFB their annually tracked assault by firearms UCR captures how a person is injured, like by gunshot, and he can break that down into non-fatal shootings.
“Probably trying to delay, slow down, or deny the information. When he tells you it’s going to take months to prepare and I know that it could be prepared in 20 to 30 minutes, there’s something wrong,” Deprato said.