Eric Heisig / Houma Courier
Violent deaths in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes are down for the second consecutive year.
Combined, 10 people have died violently in 2011, down from 12 last year. That's a 17 percent decline.
Terrebonne, with a higher population, had eight of the homicides. Three happened within Houma's city limits, five in other parts of the parish.
In Lafourche, one homicide happened in Thibodaux's city limits, the other on a rural road outside the city.
Terrebonne sheriff's Maj. Malcolm Wolfe maintains the area is still a very safe place to live.
“The majority of our homicides are drug-related or domestic,” Wolfe said. “It's very seldom we have anything else.”
Houma Police Chief Todd Duplantis attributes the homicide reduction in the parish, in part, to a shift in resources at the department. In 2009, when there were 11 murders in the city limits, most were because of drugs. Because of this, Duplantis said, he put more officers in the Narcotics Division. The effects can be seen in a reduction in violent crimes, including homicides.
“I am feeling good about it,” Duplantis said, who also attributes the decline to the increase in Neighborhood Watch programs that have multiplied around the city.
Thibodaux Police Chief Scott Silverii, whose jurisdiction handled this summer's brutal slaying of 7-year-old Jori Lirette, allegedly at the hands of his father, admitted there is often not much a police department can do to predict domestic homicides.
“The only preventable crimes are rational crimes,” Silverii said.
How Houma-Thibodaux compares
Terrebonne has about 112,000 residents, the latest census shows. The parish's 2011 homicide rate is just under 8 per 100,000 residents.
That is higher than the 5 per 100,000 recorded nationally last year, according to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report.
Lafourche has a population of 96,000. Its homicide rate is about 2 per 100,000 residents, which is below the national average.
Over the past four years, there have been 22 homicides in Lafourche, 61 in Terrebonne. Of the latter, 35 occurred within Houma's city limits.
Year-to-year numbers vary widely, experts say, and are often unpredictable, particularly when it comes to drug- and domestic-related violence.
In 2008, for example, Terrebonne had two homicides. Lafourche had 10, by far the deadliest of the past eight years. Local police say such violent crimes tend to come in waves, and the waves reached a crest in Lafourche in 2008. The same can be said for Terrebonne Parish, which had 17 violent deaths in 2009.
Why homicides happen
Nationwide, the two main categories most homicides fall under are drugs and domestic abuse, said Marc Riedel, a professor emeritus at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. As of late, domestic homicides have fallen, Riedel said, which can be attributed to stricter laws for spousal abuse, as well as promotion of women's shelters and public awareness.
“The first three months after marriage are the highest risk. Those guys will stalk them and kill them, Riedel said. “But there has been a change in law enforcement.”
In New York, for instance, police are much more aggressive with low-level crimes in making arrests, he said.
And while domestic homicides have statistically been easier to solve, drug-related cases are more difficult to solve and to reduce, Riedel.
In addition, Terrebonne may be outpacing Lafourche in homicides because of a larger transient population that comes through the parish to work, said Peter Scharf, a criminologist at Tulane University in New Orleans.
“If oil prices come out, you suddenly have folks that come to that area in hopes of getting oilfield work,” Scharf said.
Scharf said a larger population from out of town can often bring healthy economic benefits but may also bring elements that increase conflict.
Riedel said a population that has been the same for many years can end up reducing violent crimes.
“It is good with maintaining a low crime rate,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody, and that's a deterrent.”
Lafourche Sheriff Craig Webre said he generally agrees with Sharf's characterization of a smaller transient population in Lafourche lowering the homicide rate.
But Webre also credits his office's efforts to reduce conflict between feuding couples, a commitment to “utilizing every tool to protect victims and to give them resources to protect themselves.
“We enforce, or at least attempt to enforce, the law that's saying that people who have a protective order cannot possess firearms or weapons,” he said.
Staff Writer Eric Heisig can be reached at 857-2202 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TerrebonneCrime.