By Michelle Hunter | NOLA.com | February 6, 2022
Major crime in unincorporated Jefferson Parish dropped 12 percent in 2021, with decreases in four of the seven categories of offenses, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
It marks the lowest level of crime since the agency began tracking the statistics in 1974, Sheriff Joseph Lopinto III said.
“I’m fully aware that the perception of crime is up, but the numbers don’t reflect that,” Lopinto said. “I’m happy to report it’s the lowest we’ve been.”
Jefferson’s numbers do not include the municipalities of Gretna, Kenner, Westwego, Harahan, Jean Lafitte and Grand Isle, which account of 25 percent of the parish’s population and have their own police forces.
In unincorporated areas in 2021, sheriff’s deputies responded to 8,571 reports of crime that fall into the seven categories reported annually to the FBI: murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft and auto theft. That’s fewer than the 9,720 reported crimes in 2020, continuing a downward trend that began in 2014.
Homicides down, assaults up
Though 2020 saw an alarming surge in homicides fueled by domestic violence, the Sheriff’s Office reported a 17 decrease in killings in 2021, to 45.
There was nowhere near the same level of deadly familial and relationship violence that plagued 2020, although homicide detectives still found themselves investigating domestic-violence deaths, such as those of Nygia Lambert, 46, and Ngoc Nyguen, 41, both allegedly killed by former boyfriends.
And in February, detectives were called to Jefferson Gun Outlet in Metairie after Joshua Jamal Williams shot and killed customer Veronica Billiot and store clerk Hebert “Noah Fischbach. Williams was fatally wounded in a shootout with others at the range, authorities said.
While homicides were down in 2021, assaults increased by 14%. The FBI’s definition of assault includes non-fatal shootings, battery (such as fights and domestic abuse) and threats.
Lopinto said he isn’t sure what is behind the rise in assaults.
The Sheriff’s Office investigated 125 non-fatal shootings in 2021, up from 120 the previous year, said Capt. Jason Rivarde, spokesman for the agency. Still, unincorporated Jefferson Parish is not experiencing the rash of interstate highway shootings being seen in neighboring New Orleans.
Rape, robbery, theft down
The Sheriff’s Office also recorded decreases in rape, robbery and theft. The robbery figures include carjackings, another area of concern in New Orleans.
For all of 2021 plus the first 27 days of January 2022, there had been 32 armed car thefts reported to the Sheriff’s Office. Lopinto said carjacking is not an out-of-control problem in unincorporated Jefferson Parish.
But the agency did see a 15% spike in burglary and a 7% increase in auto thefts. The numbers on auto theft can fluctuate from year to year, Lopinto said.
But 2021’s increase in burglaries was absolutely due to Hurricane Ida, he said. The Category 4 storm, which made landfall Aug. 29, left the region without power for weeks, and with so many residents evacuated, criminals took advantage, illegally entering homes and businesses, Lopinto said.
“In September 2020, we had 58 burglaries. In September 2021, we had 300,” he said. “We arrested about 40 people.”
Technology and court system
Rafael Goyeneche, the Metropolitan Crime Commission president, lauded unincorporated Jefferson’s record low crime rate.
“I think it’s a combination of a Sheriff’s Office that responds in a timely manner and strategic placement of proactive policing,” he said.
Lopinto attributed the reduction to the agency’s deputies, their visibility and investigative dedication.
He also gave kudos to the technological advances in fighting crime, including automated license plate-recognition cameras that can provide real-time information and the digital forensic unit, which is adept at collecting evidence from mobile phones, computers and the internet.
“They give us a better ability to solve crime,” Lopinto said.
The Sheriff’s Office also works with prosecutors to keep criminals off the streets, he said.
“There’s a small number of individuals who create havoc in our community, and you’ve got to keep them off the street long enough to prevent them from committing other crimes.”