For the second consecutive year, the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office announced a drop in the rate of crimes reported in the parish, setting a new low mark for the 24 years of Greg Champagne’s tenure as sheriff.
In 2019, there were 1,316 crimes reported, down from the previous year’s mark of 1,454, which represented the previous low for Champagne’s tenure. Over the course of his tenure as a whole, the parish’s crime rate has dropped by more than 50 percent from his first year on the job: in 1996, there were 2,818 crimes reported, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Crime has dropped during that span despite a growth of 6,000 additional residents in the parish.
The crime rate is documented through the UCR system, or Uniformed Crime Reporting system, and serves as the nationally mandated crime reporting format as per the FBI. UCR documents crime statistics across seven major categories, including murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft, and auto theft.
Cpl. James Grimaldi, St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman, credited the new record to hard work throughout all divisions of the Sheriff’s Office as well as strong collaboration with the 29th Judicial Courts, District Attorney Joel Chaisson’s office, parish government and the St. Charles Parish public school system.
“Throughout our divisions inside the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, the employees are recognizing deficiencies, adapting to changes in policing, and voluntarily improving because they take pride in working to achieve a safer community for everyone in St. Charles Parish,” Grimaldi said.
The number of reported rapes (five to four), robberies (22 to 19), assaults (588 to 527), burglaries (184 to 133), thefts (598 to 592) and auto thefts (55 to 37) each saw declines from 2018 to 2019. The number of murders increased from two to four.
Over the course of the 24-year period the Sheriff’s Office spotlighted, a notable trend of crime rate decline began in approximately 2013. A mostly steady drop from 1996 to 2008 was followed by an upward trend from 2008-2012. The number of reported crimes dropped significantly in 2013 (2,197) and 2014 (1,777), both setting new records at the time, and the trend has seen the rate hold steady or decline since.
Grimaldi said that improvement was no accident, and coincided with a strengthened partnership with the court system and Chaisson, as well as several internal improvements, including streamlined communication methods between divisions.
“We have studied previous cases that were prosecuted to see what we could do as an investigating agency to build stronger cases, resulting in more convictions and better sentencing,” Grimaldi said. “Through training, communicating with attorneys as well as court systems, and working to produce the highest quality investigations possible, we are able to arrest criminals and keep them off of the streets.”
It’s also important to evolve, he said, noting that criminals learn from their experiences and will change their methods as older ways see diminished returns. Thus, law enforcement must follow suit.
“Policing techniques that worked 10 or 20 years ago may not work the same today,” he said. “Staying up to date by networking information with surrounding agencies helps us tremendously. We will hear about a crime trend, for example, such as scams, shoplifting techniques, or burglary techniques. These crime trends may be occurring in a neighboring parish and will have unique modus operandi. We then see if it relates to any crimes we have recently had, and often link the cases with other jurisdictions.”
Part of that evolution has been communications involving the parish’s correctional facility, particularly related to potential repeat offenders.
“Now, whenever a habitual offender is released from our correctional facility, investigational divisions (patrol, criminal investigations, juvenile investigations, special investigations) are all notified of the release,” Grimaldi said. “Very often, an individual that may have been arrested on burglary charges is released from jail, and in almost no time you will have a spree of burglaries. With a little investigational work, it is linked back to the recently released criminal.”