Jefferson saw 36 percent drop in murders, 5 percent fewer major crimes in 2015

Crime in Jefferson Parish continued to decline in 2015, Sheriff Newell Normand said Thursday, with murders falling by 36 percent and deputies counting the fewest serious offenses since 1974.

The parish saw appreciable drops in burglaries, robberies and rapes compared with the previous year, accounting for a 5 percent decline overall in the number of major crimes.

Normand noted that thefts, which also decreased last year, represented 68 percent of the total 13,478 offenses the Sheriff’s Office will report to the FBI.

The 27 murders investigated in 2015 — down from 42 the year before — marked a 16-year low, even though the Sheriff’s Office lost one of its own, Sgt. Tracey Marshall, to a fatal shooting.

In neighboring New Orleans, a crime-plagued city that has a smaller population than suburban Jefferson Parish, the authorities investigated 164 slayings last year.

“We saw a decrease in every reported category with the exception of assault,” Normand said at a news conference, acknowledging an 11 percent increase in that column. “My concern about that is we, in this community, have a habit of trying to resolve conflict by beating people, shooting at people, engaging in fistic encounters and things of that nature.”

The number of serious crimes, counted as “Part 1 offenses” by the FBI in its Uniform Crime Reporting program, reached its peak in Jefferson in 1991, with 31,880 offenses. Since that time, burglaries in the parish have fallen by 70 percent and auto thefts by 85 percent.

Normand attributed the trend to a variety of factors, including a technology-driven approach to law enforcement in which the Sheriff’s Office has embraced innovations such as automated license-plate readers. He credited a team of deputies who reliably “give a damn” and “come to work with a bounce in their step.”

“It’s not any one thing,” the sheriff said. “Good old-fashioned grunt work, police work, still matters, and it can’t just be busy work. It’s got to be meaningful.”

Tony Ligi, a former state representative who serves as executive director of the Jefferson Business Council, said the Sheriff’s Office has developed a reputation for its fast response times and aversion to “nonsense.”

Normand’s larger-than-life predecessor, Harry Lee, once dispatched armored vehicles into the streets of his parish to counteract a soaring murder rate in the months after Hurricane Katrina.

“Criminals gravitate toward areas where they know they can get away with stuff,” Ligi said, “and I think it’s become very evident to them that Jefferson Parish, because of its police force, because of the awareness of its citizens, is not a place they want to ply their trade in.”

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said Normand “is on top of what the crime trends are in Jefferson Parish, and he uses his resources to address, prevent and hold accountable those people that are committing those crimes.”

“He realizes that his deputies can’t be everywhere at once,” Goyeneche said. “He’s strategically invested in technology that will supplement and augment his workforce so they can be more efficient and effective.”

Normand asked residents to continue reporting suspicious behavior in their neighborhoods, however trivial it might seem. He said many drug investigations begin with complaints about an unusual amount of traffic at a particular residence.

“The more information we have, the better suited we’ll be to fight crime,” he said. “Whether you believe it’s important or not is of no moment. Anytime you have a feeling of uneasiness, you need to call the JPSO — and we’re gonna respond.”

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.

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