Gun violence in Lafayette continues to surge in 2021

Lafayette police and deputy marshals on a neighborhood walk in May 2021. Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: Gun violence climbed substantially in 2020, and 2021 is currently on a similar track. Homicides overall are also up, though smaller than the size of the national spike. Lafayette police reassured community members this week that they are working to tamp down the violence.

Lafayette police responded to 76% more gun crimes in 2020 than 2019, rising from 173 incidents to 304 last year, according to a report provided by the department. So far this year, police have responded to 219 violent crime incidents involving a firearm, with aggravated assault by far the most common. If trends hold, 2021 will outpace 2020, when police responded to an average of 25.6 gun crimes a month. Requests into the police department for overall violent crime numbers over the past three years were pending at press time. (The chart below includes homicides and attempted homicides by a firearm.)

Homicides are up overall, not just those committed with a gun. Eighteen people have been killed so far this year, already surpassing 2020’s total of 17, which marked an increase over the 14 murders in 2019, according to figures confirmed by an LPD spokesperson. Notably, that 21% increase in homicides from 2019 to 2020 (2018’s numbers were the lowest in three years) is still well below what the nation experienced last year.

Guns were everywhere. Nationally, some 77 percent of reported homicides in 2020 were committed with a firearm, the highest share ever reported, up from 67% a decade ago, Jeff Asher, a crime analyst based in New Orleans, told The New York Times.

A pandemic of violence. The COVID-19 pandemic, which gave way to a record rise in gun sales, lockdowns, economic and social disruption, and domestic violence, has been largely blamed for a “tsunami of lethal violence” that rocked cities everywhere; just this week the FBI’s report of a 30% spike in murders made headlines across the country as the largest single-year increase ever recorded in the U.S.

Lafayette Police Chief Thomas Glover sought to reassure community members this week. “As a city in the state of Louisiana, Lafayette is one of the safest,” he said.

Louisiana has led the nation in homicides for 31 years. Explaining why has eluded criminologists. Like Lafayette, other Louisiana cities are struggling to contain the violence, with Shreveport’s chief of police resigning last month amid a spike in serious crime there. Black Louisianans die by gun violence at more than twice the rate of white people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Lafayette has increased police funding. Last year, millions in CARES Act funding was set aside to cover police and fire pay raises approved by the previous council and administration. And in the 2022 budget the department got $1.7 million to replace 37 vehicles next year, $500,000 to add 12 more police personnel, $300,000 for five new mobile surveillance cameras poles and $300,000 for new neighborhood surveillance cameras.

But there remains an officer shortage. It’s a nationwide problem affecting departments of all sizes, with a number of causes, including low morale and historic calls for police accountability scrutiny. Lafayette has frequently had fewer police on the payroll than budgeted each year.

“This department, under my leadership, has worked its rear end off trying to make the city of Lafayette safe. Most people have seen what has happened recently during the summer months, and they would say that we are under siege. I beg to differ and I disagree,” Glover told residents attending a meeting of the Law Enforcement Community Relations Committee Monday night. “We had a rash of incidents involving gun violence this year, and I will tell you right now that I work 14, 15, 16 hours a day making sure that we put an end to it.”

What are we doing about it? Glover has proposed creating an outreach office staffed with volunteers like clergy and educators to teach young kids de-escalation skills so that, for example, online spats don’t turn into violent confrontations. He also talked of a public-private partnership to put trigger locks on weapons in people’s homes. Before the end of the year, he noted, he plans to present a proposal to the administration, City Council and Lafayette Municipal Fire and Civil Service Board for a program that will give responding officers access to a trained mental health professional once the location of an incident has been deemed safe.

“I do see a police department trying their best,” says community activist Nureaka Ross, who attended Monday’s meeting. “I believe everything that [the chief] can do, he’s doing. I feel like his heart is in the right place.” Residents with questions about the police department and how it is deploying its resources to fight crime should attend the monthly meetings of the Community Relations Committee, Ross suggests, noting that she was able to talk to bring up speeding problems near her home off Pinhook Road. The following morning, a police officer showed up in her neighborhood. 

“The community has to see us together, all over Lafayette, not just north Lafayette and south Lafayette, east and west,” Glover said. “We have to do some community walks. I believe in them, and I think Town Hall meetings, forums like this, where we get to exchange ideas and move forward, are great,” added the chief, who came to the job this year on a platform of community policing. (Listen to Glover's remarks here.)

Community policing has been shown to increase trust. Whether it reduces violent crime is unproven. Cause and effect in criminal justice is murky, and reducing violent crime is difficult. Evidence-based solutions have been tried inconsistently for decades across the country. Some promising efforts include hospital-based violence intervention and focused deterrence, which dropped gun crime 35% in three precincts in Philadelphia.