These Louisiana cities saw a surge in murders as police struggle to close cases

Published: Jan. 3, 2022

By: Lara Nicholson, Zane Piontek, Brea Rougeau and Jada Hemsley (LSU Manship School News Service)

 Roddrick Cook, who died last April, played football for Istrouma High School in Baton Rouge and dreamed of the NFL.
Roddrick Cook, who died last April, played football for Istrouma High School in Baton Rouge and dreamed of the NFL. Courtesy of Chlanda Gibson

Chlanda Gibson was in her bed last April when she heard loud pops outside her window.

She had fallen asleep while waiting for her son, 17-year-old Roddrick Cook, to come home after going out with friends. When she went to check on the noise, his friends knocked on the back door for help — one with a gunshot wound in his leg.

Cook was nowhere to be found, and as police investigated, Gibson sat in the back of a police cruiser, where she spent five dark hours wondering what had happened to him. Then she was given the devastating news: Her son, the 6-foot 4-inch, 250-pound high school football player who dreamed of going to the NFL, had been killed that night.

 Roddrick Cook’s father holds him as a child in Baton Rouge.
Roddrick Cook’s father holds him as a child in Baton Rouge.

Gibson’s son still sits on the long list of Baton Rouge murders that remain unsolved. That list includes more than half of the city’s 121homicides in 2021 as murder rates continue to soar nationwide.

The national surge in homicide rates stems from a variety of political and socioeconomic factors, trends to which Louisiana has proven far from immune. The Baton Rouge area, Shreveport, Alexandria and Lafayette all had record numbers of homicides in 2021, and New Orleans had 218 murders, the most since before its population fell with Hurricane Katrina.

As the killings stack up, clearance rates — the percentage of cases closed — has shriveled in some cities, and even cities that are solving most of their murders are struggling through staffing shortages to keep up.

The number of murders increased by 30% nationally in 2020, and the national average for homicide clearance rates dropped nearly 10 percentage points, to 51.3%. The Murder Accountability Project, which analyzes FBI homicide data collected from local agencies nationwide, said that was the worst single-year drop and the lowest murder clearance rate on record.

In Louisiana, the average clearance rate saw a drop of 9.7 percentage points in 2020, to 50.6%, according to data compiled by the accountability project, and some police departments experienced lower numbers.

Read more at WWNO

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