Gun violence in East Baton Rouge exploded in 2020 and reached even greater heights last year, when 149 killings in the city-parish outpaced the previous year’s figure by over 30%.

New data, however, indicate the grim trend is finally improving.

Advocate records show homicides in Baton Rouge have decreased in 2022 compared to last year’s record-breaking spate of slayings, which came amid surging COVID-19 deaths, strained community-police relations following George Floyd’s murder, and fluctuating economic restrictions. The newspaper tracks yearly intentional and unjustified killings under the FBI’s crime reporting rules.

Baton Rouge Police Dept. Chief Murphy Paul speaks during a press conference discussing an action plan for gun violence mitigation, in a partnership of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, community workers and the Department of Justice, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022 at BRPD headquarters.

“We know that one homicide in our city is far too many,” Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said Wednesday. “I believe that we can build on [the trend] in 2023 and continue to reduce crime with these strategies that we have in place.”

There have been 94 killings in East Baton Rouge in 2022 as of Nov. 30, Advocate records show, compared to 103 by the same point in 2020 and 132 last year. The data is preliminary and may change if some killings are later ruled justified or unintentional or vice versa.

The surge of killings mirrored a national trend: Homicides soared as officials noted increasingly brazen displays of gun violence — including in broad daylight, with little regard for witnesses — and relatively minor disputes escalating into deadly gunfire. The patterns took shape in early 2020 and escalated in 2021 as people faced a rollercoaster of coronavirus cases, cycles of financial hardship, a backlogged court system and strained social systems.

Baton Rouge Police officers including crime scene investigators work near a number of evidence markers laid out in a parking lot in approximately the 1900 block of Choctaw Drive at the corner of Lobelia Ave., after a shooting there at about 10:20 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. Baton Rouge Police spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola Jr. said that one person suffered fatal injuries and died at the scene, and others were possibly injured.

At a press conference Wednesday, federal, state and local officials described how a partnership underway since February — one of a series of anti-violence initiatives in the city — has helped curb that trend in Baton Rouge.

The drop in killings mirrors a national trend, too: Shooting deaths nationwide are down compared to last year, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit that tracks shootings across the country. An outlier from that trend is New Orleans, where homicides rose by about 30% from the prior year as of early October.

America as a whole still has much more gun violence than its peers and experts say the dip still leaves the country with more gun deaths than a few years ago. In Baton Rouge, the statistical improvements come as little consolation to those who have lost family to the violence.

Scenes of tragedy have played out week after week in the city, most often in neighborhoods mired in disinvestment and poverty. The victims include a 17-year-old boy fatally shot outside a grocery store on a sunny afternoon, a toddler slain in his sleep by a stray bullet, and an up-and-coming rapper who had begun turning his life around before a retaliatory shooting left him dead outside his apartment. 

Baton Rouge Police talk to bystanders while investigating a shooting at Terrace Grocery on the corner of S. 15th Street and Terrace Avenue on Monday, October 10, 2022 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The anti-violence initiative has sought to achieve its goal by four means: community outreach, prioritizing gun crimes and high-risk offenders in the courts, addressing blight and other infrastructure shortfalls, and using new technology to police violent crime.

About a quarter of the crimes that come through the East Baton Rouge district attorney’s office are gun crimes, DA Hillar Moore said. His office for the past several years has conducted “gun reviews” of arrests involving firearm possession, compiling a database of gun cases including defendants’ previous arrests and whether they have a history of federal gun charges.

“We look for violent offenders, we look for repeat offenders, we look for gun offenders, we look for gang or group-involved members,” Moore said.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III speaks during a press conference discussing an action plan for gun violence mitigation, in a partnership of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, community workers and the Department of Justice, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022 at Baton Rouge Police Dept. headquarters.

Activists and law enforcement have also sought at the neighborhood level to connect with residents and ease anti-police tensions. People are proving more willing to aid detectives in solving crimes — yielding swifter penalties for those who carry out shootings, said Murphy Paul, the police chief. 

“People in Baton Rouge are deciding not to believe the lie ‘stop snitching’,” he said.