The city is seeing a violent spike in crime, a troubling trend that experts say is largely due to socioeconomic issues exacerbated by the pandemic and one that led the police chief to resign from his position last month.
Gun violence incidents in Shreveport have increased 11% from the same time frame last year with 168 incidents so far in 2021, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a non-profit organization that tracks gun-related violence in the United States.
“Three of the highest crime cities in America – Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans – are all in Louisiana, which is among the poorest (states) in the country,” said Edward Shihadeh, an expert on criminology at the Department of Sociology at the Louisiana State University.
“We have low rates of educational attainment and lack of education,” he added. “Poverty is directly related to these issues, which interacts in times of social change to make things even worse.”
Shreveport Police Chief Ben Raymond resigned in August ahead of a no-confidence vote called for by Shreveport City Council members Jerry Bowman Jr. and LeVette Fuller.
“To blame me as chief of police for the violent offenders that are running our streets is ludicrous,” Raymond said during his resignation speech.
Raymond said he would remain on the Shreveport police force but would take a demotion to the position of sergeant. He will be on leave until returning in November.
“We are experiencing an inexcusable surge of violent crime in this particular moment,” Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins said. “My number one priority is focusing on the future and making sure that each and every citizen of Shreveport is as safe as possible. The police department needs change.”
Shreveport takes big city approach
The spike in violent crime prompted city officials to set up a Real Time Crime Center (RTCC), which uses technology such as cameras to better track the violence in the streets, help speed up response times, and gather intelligence on crimes to find suspects and aid prosecution.
Shreveport, with a population of roughly 187,000 people, according to 2019 Census data, is one of the smallest cities employing advanced policing capabilities and becoming more in line with major cities such as New York, Chicago, Detroit and Austin that have implemented RTCCs to aid law enforcement in compiling data and responding more efficiently to crimes.
The city also launched an eight-week #SaferShreveport campaign aimed at decreasing crime. The initiative was a collaboration between the Office of the Mayor, Shreveport Police Department, Shreveport Fire Department, Community Development, Shreveport Public Assembly & Recreation and Property Standards.
The campaign emphasized “programs that are available to improve the quality of life for all of our residents,” Perkins said in a June news release. “Our goal is to connect citizens to valuable resources related to crime prevention, job placement, youth programs and mental health.”
The shootings are so concerning that some first responders are asking to be equipped with bulletproof vests.
“I want any firefighter that asks for that level of protection to be able to receive it,” Barbara Sellers, Shreveport Firefighters Association president, told CNN. “For each seat to be equipped with a vest, according to the fire chief last week, it would take $125,000.”
Most of the perpetrators and the victims of gun violence in the city are Black men, according to Mayor Perkins.
Perkins, who grew up in Shreveport, said there’s a “huge difference” in who is getting involved in the city’s violence.
“There were adults doing it in the ’80s and ‘90s,” he said. “These are kids doing it.”
Raymond told CNN he’s not sure what’s driving the increase in violent crime, which he said is “well above and beyond our average,” while other categories of crime such as burglary, theft and auto theft have decreased over last year.
Raymond said his department is more than 100 officers short of normal staffing levels, mirroring a nationwide trend as agencies struggle with recruitment and retention as they face an anti-police climate and calls to defund police budgets. It’s not just more police officers that are needed, Raymond said, but it’s more convictions that can act as a deterrent.
A focus on predicting crime patterns
Police chiefs have blamed the violent crime rise across the country on the pandemic, as sectors of the criminal justice system that hold people accountable for their crimes have been disrupted over the past year. Jails, prisons, correctional facilities and court systems have been severely impacted by Covid-19 outbreaks.
Rodney Demery, a former Shreveport homicide detective, said individuals need to know if there will be consequences for their actions to determine whether they will commit a crime. “If someone has a high chance of getting away with murder, they are more likely to go through with it,” he said. .
Shihadeh said the pandemic is not only severely disrupting communities, but law enforcement capacity to control violence in their communities. In Louisiana specifically, crime rates spiked after massively disruptive events such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and widespread flooding in Baton Rouge.
The Real Time Crime Center represents the shift in law enforcement interest from understanding the causes of crime to predicting crime patterns, according to Shihadeh. “It’s not that they are callous, but they need technology, whether it’s statistical technology like predictive analytics or cameras, to predict and stop the crime,” he said.
Shihadeh said the initiative will likely be “labor intensive” and expensive to sustain in the long run, a common issue with law enforcement crime reduction programs.
Faith leaders in Shreveport have been hosting prayer nights to promote peace during the city’s fight against gun violence.
Ronald Timothy Jones, a 23-year-old Black man and the son of the pastor at Peaceful Rest Baptist Church, said many people his age, including himself, have lost friends to violence in the city.
Darwin Jones, a Shreveport resident and member of the church, said he’s lost two nephews to gun violence since the beginning of this year.
“One of the things we have to do is first have some respect for human life, period,” he said.