Walter Pierce

Crime falls downtown; PD defends higher levy

by Walter Pierce

An INDsider analysis based on data provided by the Lafayette Police Department finds that crime in downtown Lafayette has fallen from 2008 to 2009 and, perhaps more significantly, from the first half of 2009 to the second half. Still, Police Chief Jim Craft maintains that the pressure on his officers working the downtown security detail Thursdays through Fridays is greater, and the higher fees charged to the 17 bars downtown is warranted in order to add officers to the detail.

“It would be kind of stupid for us to argue, ‘Man, we’ve had this big increase in crime,’” Craft says. “It’s the types of incidents that have occurred, the seriousness of them I guess — the girls are followed home and raped; they could have been murdered. Or the guy who’s walking down the street. He’s not bothering anybody, and this guy comes up to him and just knocks the crap out of him and knocks him to the ground and breaks his nose and his bones in his face. Although there may be fewer of those incidents, they are growing more serious.”

Breaking 2009 into halves (January-June and July-November) using LPD records, only robberies involving guns rose — from three in the January-June period to six in the July-November period. Other robberies declined from 13 to 10, as did aggravated battery (15 to 13), aggravated assault (7 to two) and car burglaries (103 to 62). And the number of service calls to police fell roughly 5 percent, from 6,789 in January-June to 6,422 in July-November.

Craft attributes the decline in crime to the presence of the LPD security detail. “I tell you when I think it had the most dramatic effect was in June when we increased our numbers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights,” he says.

But at least one bar owner believes the drop in crime undermines Lafayette Consolidated Government’s decision to raise — dramatically in some cases — the monthly levy bars must pay to cover their half of the security details. “This thing is being blown so far out of proportion, and we need to do whatever we need to do to get it straight and let’s get downtown back to the way it was,” says Nite Town owner George Favaloro.

After months of negotiations with bar owners and consultation with police, the City-Parish Council in February passed an ordinance that establishes a levy schedule for 17 downtown bars, most of them clustered in the 300, 400 and 500 blocks of Jefferson Street. The ordinance includes a $1,500 cap for the largest venues, but also stipulates that police can reassess the security needs downtown annually and adjust the levies accordingly. Last month, bar owners were informed that the levy was going up and, much to consternation of the larger bars, the cap was being busted. Karma, the largest downtown bar, is now paying $4,020 per month. “We have a budget just like any other business has a budget, and when we put in this budget at $1,500, and so you jump it up, then you got to figure out where you’re going to have cost cuts and everything,” says Favaloro. “And then when business is down, you’re already having cost cuts.” For more on the tension between downtown bars and city-parish government, see this week’s cover story, “Bar Fight.”

Craft agrees that business is down inside of the bars, but insists that the number of people loitering along Jefferson Street and, more important, the rowdiness of the crowds is what is straining his resources. “It’s not based solely on crime stats; it’s based on what types of crimes and the amount of people now frequenting that area, and change of venue. If you base it solely on crime rates, no, it’s down from ’08 — crime’s down from ’08 down there — but you still have crime,” the police chief says. “I don’t want to blame it, the total thing on venue, but you talk to those bar owners and they’ll tell you about the bars who change their venue to hip-hop. It attracts a thug-type mentality for some of the people going down there. The bar owners know and the police know it.”