In the wake of Monday’s fatal road-rage shooting in the parking lot of his Benny’s B-Quick store on busy Perkins Road, Justin Alford expressed the frustration that a lot of local business owners are apparently feeling amid what is shaping up to be one of the deadliest years in Baton Rouge history.
Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp, who spoke to Alford by phone late Tuesday about his concerns and what business leaders can do, says he’s heard in recent weeks from several business owners who want to get involved in addressing Baton Rouge’s crime problem.
“What Justin has shared, what others have shared, is an urgent desire to be involved and help in trying to address the problem,” Knapp says. “We haven’t talked yet about what is the right response from an organizational standpoint. I think we want to make sure we’re pulling together business leaders who have a real deep sense of concern about crime issues, and then try to offer solutions that the DA, the police chief, and the sheriff think are helpful.”
It’s not unusual for business and community leaders to talk tough on crime when there is a spike of violent incidents, as there has been throughout 2021 in Baton Rouge.
But the senseless, random and brash nature of recent incidents has elevated concerns to what feels, at least, like a whole new level.
As Alford noted, the killing outside his B-Quick occurred during daylight, adjacent to a fire station with three police officers on site.
Another recent shooting, which killed one victim and wounded another, also occurred in broad daylight on a busy thoroughfare outside the parking lot of a restaurant, the IHOP on Siegen Lane.
“Where are you safe anymore in Baton Rouge?” Alford said. “What more can you do?”
Knapp says BRAC has always been concerned about murders and violent crime but acknowledges “the stress of the last couple of months has just heightened the angst because the numbers are so significant this year.”
According to a recent report in The Advocate, law enforcement has recorded at least 65 murders parishwide since Jan. 1, most within city limits. That’s a 60% increase over the same time last year, and more murders recorded than all of 2016.
Knapp doesn’t promise to have any solutions but he does intend to meet in the coming days with Alford and other business owners and connect them with law enforcement leaders to brainstorm solutions and help support—whether financially or otherwise—efforts to fight rising crime rates.
“We’ve seen in moments like this an opportunity to raise money to help the police, the sheriff, the DA find the resources, one-time resources, and try to do things creatively for them,” he says. “So I think we’re having those same conversations with them now. What is possible? What is helpful? What can the business community try to do to help?”
The problem is not so much an economic development concern, he says, but a quality-of-life issue.
“It’s really about how to make sure everybody feels safe in their businesses and communities,” he says. “We want to pull people together in a unified way.”