Cover Story, July 2018

Cover Story, BRPD Chief Murphy Paul, Faith and Family First

Faith and family first

Chief murphy paul calls the community to action

Armed with 27 years of law enforcement experience and standing on a foundation of faith, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul exudes confidence in efforts to stem the rising tide of violence among American youth.

“If we’re going to change the hearts and souls of young men, then I think it’s going to start with our faith-based community,” he said. “Less than 7% of individuals are responsible for a majority of the violent crime. They’re not in their congregations on Sundays – they’re not. So, if we’re going to evangelize to the lost, you have to get from behind the pulpit. We have to hit the streets.”

That means intentionally stepping into troubled areas, building bridges of trust and opening avenues of communication. But they want to do it wisely. This summer, the U.S. Department of Justice is holding sessions in Baton Rouge with faith-based leaders and other community partners on safely engaging the community at the street level.

“We’re going to ask our pastors to try to reach the hearts of these young men, and we’re going to have mentors out there,” Paul said. “We’re going to do everything we can to have a positive impact on this culture of violence.”

“One of the things we recognize is that there are barriers in community-police relations. So, what we’re telling the community is – if you’re scared to come forward to law enforcement, if you don’t want to come forward, then go to your pastor, your faith-based leader and talk to him or her,” Paul said. Faith-based leaders can then present appropriate information to law enforcement.

While current statistics indicate an increase in the homicide rate, Chief Paul expects the number of violent deaths to decrease as their efforts take hold. “We’re below the national average when it comes to solving these homicides and that’s due, in part, because the community is not coming forward and working with us to provide information to put these bad guys in jail,” he said. “Every violent crime that we see right now – there’s a gun involved. And we’re starting to see that some of the criminals are getting younger and younger.”

It’s important to get to know people, then look for crisis signs. “A change in behavior is a big indicator,” Paul said. “So, I think it’s important in this day and age that when we see something, we say something.”

Chief Paul favors the idea of police officers in schools to serve as resource personnel. However, there is currently too little funding and too few officers. Consistent, on-site police officers would develop relationships with students that can break down barriers, flag problems and help kids view police officers in a different light.

“We’re starting to see some progress. The community is saying we’re sick and tired of the violent crime that’s going on in our community, and they’re talking,” he said. Crime Stoppers, the anonymous tip line, is receiving as many as 400 calls per month at 344-STOP.

But the core of the issue is a need for changed hearts, Paul believes. “We are dealing with a culture of violence in the city of Baton Rouge where we have young men who don’t care if they live another day. They don’t care about the consequences,” he said. “Their hearts are not in the right place. With all our work and efforts as police officers, we’re not in the heart business.”

That’s where the faith-based community can work best – by transforming lives, Paul said. He traces his own success to adults who cultivated his faith and understanding of right and wrong.

Growing up in New Orleans, Paul confronted a spectrum of tough choices. “I look at the young men that I grew up with – some are in jail, some have lost their lives, some may not be doing as well. And I look at all the successful [ones].” Education and positive role models are key, he said. “You need mentors; you need people to look up to, people to help lead you in that direction.” Paul said some people who run into trouble with the law were never taught to do the right thing.

“It’s unfortunate that we do have a generation that are lost, but we can’t give up on them. It’s not the Christian thing to do,” he said. “We have to keep trying.” To youth in the community – and his own four sons – Paul preaches the three C’s: control, choices and consequences.

“You have control over everything you do. How you respond to a situation is more important than the hardship itself. That’s why you have to be wise when you make choices because they have consequences,” he said.

“So, I tell kids: Don’t buy into this victim mentality. We make mistakes. Learn from them,” he said. “The way you do that is understanding the 3 F’s: faith and family first. They are the only institutions that don’t judge you and give you second chances.”

Paul said many people invested in his life and led by example. “My mom [Patricia Price Paul] always preached the importance of putting God first,” he said. His parents divorced when he was very young, leaving her to raise Paul and his two sisters.

“She just showered us with so much love. My sisters – we have a great relationship. I can’t ever think of a phone call or a conversation where we didn’t say “I love you” and “I love you, too,” even after an argument. He credits his mother for her awareness of their friends and activities – and for being quick to intervene when something didn’t seem right.

“My mom could come in my room any time and just search the room. I can remember one time she searched the car – she didn’t like the company I was with that time,” he said. “Kids out there don’t always make the best decisions.” He advises parents to take charge by searching their kids’ backpacks and bedrooms. “We need to look under the mattress, we need to pull out the drawers, we need to go to the car, get the keys, search in the glove compartment, the trunk and everything. Be involved.”

“I’m in a great place right now, spiritually,” Paul said. To start the day with a positive attitude, he turns to gospel music. At 6:00 every morning, a cashier at the State Police cafeteria sends a verse of scripture. “Today’s scripture is ‘Live wisely among those who are not believers and make the most of every opportunity,’ [Colossians 4:5, 6 NLT]” he said. He reads the daily scripture on the Bible App. He is refreshed and encouraged at Healing Place Church. “Every Sunday, you get an opportunity to empty that stress cup,” he said. “It puts things in the right perspective.”

That perspective is at the heart of his appeal to the faith-based community, in the belief that a mindset of awareness and mentoring can make a difference. Chief Paul is so committed to the concept of community involvement that – when he decided to retire from State Police – he intended to spend the rest of his life connecting capable volunteers with their areas of passion through his new nonprofit, Work to Give. He prepared to become a certified mentor trainer through the John Maxwell program, Then, he experienced a life change.

“If you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans,” Paul said. “God began to bless me and open up doors and opportunities that I could never imagine.” Fellow mentors in the Maxwell program saw his sense of hope, his enthusiasm and his experience as qualifications for a future police chief – something he had not considered. On their advice, he turned in his application for Baton Rouge chief of police just before the deadline.

I’m excited about the future of the police department here. We have great men and women who work here,” he said. “I think God put me here for a reason.”

“It’s a difficult time. I do believe that. And that’s why I think prayer is so important,” he said. “God has a way of calming us in difficult times…I pray and ask God for wisdom, for guidance on decisions.”

“But I think the true change in the crime issues here is not going to come from me,” Paul said. “I think it’s going to come from the community – and it’s going to come from the faith-based community. They’re in the business of changing hearts.”

The Baton Rouge Police Department is seeing success through connections with community leaders including faith-based partnerships.

Susan Brown began her career in radio news. She was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds a master’s degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.

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Feature Story, July 2016

Hillar Moore: Leading the Way to a Safer, More Unified Baton Rouge

by Krista Bordelon

 “The lack of family, lack of neighborhood, and lack of religion in communities is a significant hit to the fiber of our nation.” — Hillar Moore

Photo by Beth Townsend.
Photo by Beth Townsend.

“We have a killing problem. I’ve always wondered why people are killing each other and what we can do to stop that,” District Attorney Hillar Moore said. He had received a 4 a.m. wake-up call regarding another murder here in the capital city, so the determination was fresh and strong. “All of the studies I’ve read on how to stop the murders are complete nonsense in my opinion. None of them ever work, and they are all too complicated,” he said. So what has he done throughout the past four years to address this issue in a city that has one of the nation’s leading per capita murder rates? “It’s a 24/7 job. You can’t ever stop; you can’t ever rest. They’re watching, and they know the exact moment you let up,” he says.

Moore was born and raised in New Orleans, one of 7 children born to his Italian mother and his German-Irish father. “My dad was in the Marine Corps returning from WWII when he met my mom while she was running her father’s grocery store,” Moore said. The family was very involved in the Catholic Church and school system. He graduated from Brother Martin High School and moved to Baton Rouge to attend LSU, and his entire family followed him here shortly afterward.

For 42 years Moore has built a life in Baton Rouge, pouring his heart into the community long before his service to our city as district attorney. At 19 years old he became one of the youngest DA investigators in the country. “I was a volunteer student worker while getting my degree at LSU, and was hired here as an investigator after graduation,” he said. During his 11 years as an investigator he was in charge of crime scene investigation and forensics, which prompted his decision to go to law school. He became a defense lawyer working with Anthony Marabella (who is now a judge) and served for 16 years before deciding to run for DA in 2008.

“I’ve been doing this for 42 years. I’ve been on both sides, the defense side and the prosecution side. The value of seeing both sides makes it better for me. Every side has its black and white, but you can’t see it like that when you’re in the middle,” Moore said. In a city with an average of 88 murders a year, and everyone looking at him for answers, he made the decision to contact Dr. David Kennedy with the John Jay College of Criminal justice in NYC. Kennedy is the director of the National Network for safe communities and has implemented programs in cities around the country to strengthen community relations and reduce crime and incarceration rates.

“He had this program in Boston, ‘The Boston Cease Fire’ or ‘The Boston Miracle’ which incorporated religion and faith based techniques and was government sponsored. I called him and said, ‘We have a serious murder problem,’ he told me, ‘You probably don’t, but go ahead and tell me about it,’ and once I did he said, ‘You have a serious murder problem.’” Moore said. “We had to figure out where the killings were coming from. Luckily for us it was a ‘fixable’ problem when 54 percent of our murders ended up being group related.”

Hillar IV, John Michael, Hillar, Hayden and Dawn.
Hillar IV, John Michael, Hillar, Hayden and Dawn.

Moore explained the long process they went through to examine the files of every single murder over the past several years to find some sort of connection to work with. “We identified 32 working groups at the time, and began to institute call-ins (a technique in the group violence reduction strategy),” he said.

Through intelligence work, the most active groups and the most active group members are identified and contacted. LSU is a huge research partner, gathering and translating all data to be usable by these programs. “We send them a letter to come in, sit down and talk. Usually, they are on probation, have an upcoming court date or are in prison. We tell them to invite their mom, their girlfriend, their lawyer, and that they’ve been identified as an influential member and we want them to take a message back to their groups from us. Basically, the message is, ‘We will do bad stuff to you if you do bad stuff to us,’” Moore explained.

This is the 10th call-in over three years, and they have seen great success. “For the first call-in, 40 were invited and 37 showed up, plus 4 additional people who were mad they didn’t get a letter from us. It is a scripted message we give them from law enforcement. This isn’t a dialogue, it is us one-way talking at them, no questions and no talking back. This isn’t a negotiation,” he said.

Moore continued, “Basically we say, ‘It’s a new day in Baton Rouge. If you shoot and kill, we are coming after you. Put your guns down and take our help. I have 50 community service providers who will put you at the top of the list for resources, so transportation, rehab, mental health, school, tell us what you need,’” he said. “At that point most refuse our help, so our next option is, ‘Put your guns down, and you won’t have to deal with us,’ but we know someone is going to screw up, it’s going to happen, so it always ends with, ‘If you screw up you will be met with swift, immediate action by a lot of folks.’”

At this part of the call-in, responsibility shifts from the white law enforcement side to the black faith-based and community leaders to deliver the message, and they can deliver it in a way law enforcement can’t.

“These leaders get the message to them that we are all in this together. We may disagree on some things, but we don’t disagree on the fact that you have to stop killing,” he said. Moore highlighted that there is a huge distrust between both parties (law enforcement and the community), and that gap needs to be bridged. The program won’t be successful without it.

“This is the only program I’ve seen that encourages and pays for the faith-based side of the message. We ask preachers every Sunday to preach a message of non-violence, do community cleanups and step out of the pulpit and into the community,” he said. “LSU tracks everything we do – cleanups, gun buy backs, community meetings, etc., and crime goes down significantly 25-40 percent for 2-4 weeks in that (specific) neighborhood. After a call-in, the reduction is incredible with these group members for a significant period of time (up to 6 weeks). We can hear them on the prison phone calls, which are always monitored, spreading the message we just gave them.”

“During these call-ins, computer screens are set up showing pictures of the former gang members that are dead, pictures of bodies on the ground, pictures of who is doing 40 years and who is doing life. Maps show where the prisons are that they will be sent to if they are caught. The reality of it all is in their face,” Moore said. The first year the call-ins started, very few were taking law enforcement’s help, but more and more are now taking help.

“If they don’t take our help we reach out to their family, their brothers and sisters, that also helps,” he said. The first year they started with a baseline of 85 murders, which dropped to 58. “That’s 25 less people who didn’t get killed, but that also means 25 people didn’t go to jail for life,” Moore explained. The second year was down even farther, and although the third year spiked back up due to 7 double murders and 3 triple murders (events that Moore says make them “mad because those are numbers that go against the work we are doing”), it still managed to stay below the baseline. “All major medium cities are up, but we are doing good. We’re good,” he said.

The Moore Family
The Moore Family

But, since school let out last week, it’s “killing season” again in Baton Rouge and Moore said everyone is just holding their breath for what’s next. “When we aren’t doing call-ins we’re doing customized notifications. We know who is about to kill and who is about to be killed, so we try to disrupt their behavior as much as we can. Usually the response is, ‘Get out of my life.’ Hopefully, we will eventually get murders down, because it’s still not acceptable at 60 a year,” he said.

They’re currently on the right track — with an expected reduction of 5 bodies that first year, the start up of 25 set a good precedent. Moore said we have to address the issues creating an environment for murder in the first place including, “truancy, lack of education, teen pregnancy, high HIV/AIDS rates, mental health, poverty, historical racial issues, cycles of incarceration beginning as juveniles, no fathers and no mentors …”

His next plan is to gain support for a mentorship program involving veterans. “Often those who served have the same emotional problems these kids have, they’re all suffering from post traumatic stress. Maybe they can help each other. This is a dangerous group we’re dealing with at only 15 or 16 years old. These military men are disciplined and trained,” Moore said.

There are many programs offered throughout Baton Rouge, but each one faces its challenges when it comes to success. “You can offer these kids everything, but they don’t even know how to take it,” he concluded. Regardless of the successes and setbacks, one thing is clear; this is a community problem that can’t be left in the hands of few. There is a great forward momentum, so let’s all join together to keep going.