By Michelle Hunter | Nola.com | January 5, 2020
The number of homicides in unincorporated Jefferson Parish doubled in 2019, a statistic officials called an anomaly that came on the heels of a year that saw a huge drop.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office detectives investigated 48 homicides, according to statistics provided by the department, up from 24 killings reported in 2018, a record low for the Sheriff’s Office. There were also at least six killings in incorporated parts of the parish.
Slayings in Jefferson increased at the same time that neighboring New Orleans, frequently found near the top of the list of the nation’s deadliest cities, reported an almost 20% drop in homicides in 2019, the third straight year it recorded a decrease.
But JPSO officials and crime experts cautioned against comparing the two vastly different jurisdictions.
And while they acknowledge the numbers in unincorporated Jefferson Parish aren’t ideal — saying that one murder is one too many — the homicide stats don’t seem to be causing significant alarm.
“Forty-eight is largely within the sphere of what Jefferson Parish has experienced over a decade,” crime analyst Jeff Asher said Friday.
Jefferson Sheriff Joe Lopinto called the figure an anomaly following a year when the department handled the lowest number of homicides since 1972, when the Sheriff’s Office began keeping track of crime rates.
Homicide detectives also investigated a number of cases with multiple victims, including a quadruple murder and a triple murder, Lopinto pointed out. “If you take out the mass killings, we are very close to an average year in Jefferson Parish,” he said.
The unincorporated Jefferson Parish numbers do not include crimes in the municipalities of Kenner, Gretna, Harahan, Westwego, Grand Isle and Jean Lafitte.
Kenner police reported four homicides in 2019 and Gretna investigated two. The other jurisdictions had no homicides, authorities said.
The Sheriff’s Office typically has recorded around 41 homicides annually over the past 15 years, department data show. The numbers swing up and down, with the lowest total reported in 2018 and the record high of 66 slayings recorded in 2006, the year after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the area.
About half of the homicides investigated by the Sheriff’s Office last year were drug-related killings, according to Lopinto. There were also domestic homicides involving victims and killers who knew one another or were related — all homicides that are difficult to predict and prevent, he said.
But in analyzing the homicide rate, Lopinto placed more weight on the number of mass killings in 2019.
There were five instances of double homicides, including the Sept. 4 shooting deaths of 7-year-old Mekia Smith and her older brother, Ronald Eddington III, 21. The siblings were gunned down by a friend, the Sheriff’s Office said.
On March 6, detectives were called to a Terrytown apartment where Terrance Leonard, 33, is accused of using a hammer to beat to death his former girlfriend, Kristina Riley, 32; two of her children, Nashawna Riley, 14, and Ayden Riley, 10; and her niece, De’Reyona Encalade, 9,
And four months later, authorities say, Sean Barrette, 23, randomly shot and killed three Metairie motorists: Isai Francisco Cadalzo-Sevilla, 22; Nicky Robeau, 57; and Manuel Caronia, 45.
“When you deal with seven bodies in two instances, the murder rate is going to go up,” Lopinto said.
The New Orleans Police Department handled 119 homicides in 2019, the lowest number in the city since 1971.
“Jefferson Parish is right across the road, but there’s not really a relationship between those two,” Asher said. “They act independently.”
A few additional deaths can have a greater statistical impact on homicide rates in Jefferson Parish than in New Orleans.
“On its surface, it looks like a big jump (from 24 to 48). But under the surface, I don’t think it means there’s been a big change,” Asher said.
Lopinto noted no obvious trends connecting the rise and fall of homicides rates in Jefferson Parish and New Orleans.
“We have a portion of New Orleans residents involved, whether they’re victims or suspects, but that’s not uncommon with any crime,” the sheriff said.
Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche called the spike in unincorporated Jefferson Parish’s homicide rate unusual, something he hopes is an aberration. But he, too, mentioned that the mass killings and the previous year’s record low must be taken into consideration.
“Crime is like everything else. It’s volatile. It’s always changing,” he said. “What law enforcement is working to do is reverse the negative trends.”
The complete crime statistics for 2019 aren’t yet available, but Lopinto noted that overall crime in unincorporated Jefferson Parish was on track for a 2.5% drop based on numbers comparing the first 11 months of 2019 to the same period in 2018.
Robberies, assaults, burglaries and auto thefts were down. In addition to homicides, the department recorded increases in rapes and thefts.
Lopinto also touted the homicide division’s 90% “solve rate.”
“The murder rates are more than just a number because you have families that were involved, who lost loved ones. Hopefully, we can do our jobs and bring them closure,” Lopinto said.