Even with Katrina, crime falls in 2005
St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office released their annual crime statistics, and, according to their Uniform Crime Report (UCR), crime fell 9.4 percent last year, from 2407 crimes in 2004 to 2180 in 2005. “Even before Hurricane Katrina,” Sheriff Champagne said, “we were already on track for an improvement from last year.” During Katrina, in September, the 181 UCR crimes were lower than 2004’s amount of illegal activities, which were 227.
The UCR, which is collected and compiled by the FBI, places criminal acts in 7 categories: murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft and auto theft.
One crime, burglary, which is an illegal entry, saw a spike in September, jumping to 10-year high, 73. “We always see a 20 or 30 additional burglaries during hurricane evacuations,” said Champagne, adding that overall the total for the year was within the parish average over the last decade. “Immediately after the storm, we went right back to some low numbers, 28.”
Champagne said since Katrina, with the increased population in St. Charles Parish, overall, things have been peaceful. Other than 10 undocumented roofers from Mexico living St. Rose, who were caught dealing cocaine on the side, he said most of the new residents are law biding.
Long term, Champagne said that the biggest challenge to his department is getting more deputies and handling the increase in traffic from the growth. “We have to plan to meet the growth, expanding the number of beats we have as the parish grows,” said Champagne.
As to what has caused the continual drop over the decade in illegal activities, space for criminals topped the list: “It is not a coincidence that we started to see crime go down once we opened the new correctional center,” said Champagne. “Before basically, we had 100 beds in the courthouse; it was a shell-game. There was no room to keep anybody.”
Once the facility opened in 2001, UCR statistics began to fall at a steady rate. Despite that population in the parish has continually increased, Champagne attributes the dip to more deputies on beats as one reason for success, and being able to house “nuisance” offenders as the other reason.
Even though crime numbers are down, Champagne said he is low on staff. He lost 15 for failing to show up during Katrina and several more after the storm. He started hiring more deputies, but he said that process takes several months for each recruit. “No area of the parish is vulnerable,” said Champagne, adding that he is using overtime to meet the shortfall of deputies.
In terms of capital crimes, the parish had 4 murders last year, which is the high for the decade. However, over the 10-year period, murder victims fluctuated between 1 and 4, showing it does not follow a pattern. “Murder is probably the least preventable crime in all of the UCR…. If somebody is of the mind frame of irrational thinking, where they are going to kill someone, there is not a whole lot any police force can do to prevent it,” said Champagne, adding, “Overall, we have a peaceful population.”