Families, murder expert see Shreveport leaders as part of city's growing homicide problem

Homicide victims' families question what city leaders will do to help detectives build stronger cases
Published: Oct. 25, 2017 at 4:49 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2017 at 7:34 PM CDT
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(Source: Raycom Media)
(Source: Raycom Media)

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - As the number of homicides continues to rise in Shreveport, the victims' families and friends are voicing concerns that city officials are stretching homicide investigators too thin.

During the first two years of Mayor Ollie Tyler's term as mayor, the Police Department's annual crime report shows the city recording 28 homicides in 2014 and again in 2015.

But in 2016, 46 homicides were committed in Shreveport, the same year Tyler named Alan Crump as interim police chief. That number equaled a 60% increase in the city's homicide rate.

While the national homicide rate rose by 20% in 2016, according to FBI's uniform crime reports, Shreveport's rate tripled the national spike in homicides.

In November, Tyler named Crump as her choice to fill the police chief position, and the city's homicide rate has continued to rise.

So far in 2017, the city is averaging 4 homicides a month. The most recent stabbing death bringing the number of homicides this year to 41.

Among the victims is Benjamin Finney Jr., who was a passenger sitting passenger in a parked Honda Accord on July 1, at a Mooretown intersection. That's when a silver Cadillac pulled up to the light. Leaning back in his seat and texting, Finney Jr. never saw the gunman jump from the other vehicle and open fire with a semi-automatic weapon.

According to the official investigative report, Finney was not the intended target. The driver, Chris Hayes was. but the gunman missed, striking Finney twice in the back and killing the 23-year-old not far from where he lived.

Nearly two and a half months since that hot and tragic July night, Finney's parents, Benjamin Sr. and Lawanda, have been relentless in their pursuit of justice.

"His mom and me, night and day we've been out there, trying to get everyone we can to help."  Benjamin Finney Sr. said. "And we both work, but we will not stop until justice for Ben is served."

In September, Shreveport police made an arrest in the homicide case.  Later that month, the suspect turned himself in after retaining a lawyer, according to police records.

However, less than one month later, the once alleged killer walked free, after a Caddo Parish grand jury determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute him.

"It's a painful feeling. Not as bad as when Ben got killed, but it's hard," Lawanda Finney said.

"But I figured we'd be right back here. The detective working Ben's murder, I've known her since she was an officer in the Shreveport Police Department."

"I had a wreck one time and she was called out there," Benjamin Finney's mother continued. "She didn't even want to write the report up. She showed no effort, so I told Ben Sr. 'Oh this is no good'."

"The first week our son was killed, our detective was on vacation," Benjamin Finney Sr. recalled.  "So Ben's case just sat there on a desk."

While the Finneys are upset with the homicide detective assigned to investigate their son's death, they are equally upset with Tyler, Crump and the top leadership in the Police Department's violent crimes unit.

"The week I went up to the police station, a sergeant tells me they only have six detectives working homicide. Six," Finney Sr. said. "They have to work violent crimes and there are eight types of violent crimes he told me."

"Every time you turn the TV on, you're going to hear our voice," Lawanda Finney said, talking about her belief that Tyler and Police Department heads are not doing enough to combat homicide and other violent crimes in the city.

"We going to get justice for Ben, if we have to go above Mayor Tyler's head, the Shreveport Police Department, we will."

If the current pace holds, Shreveport is on pace to witness 48 homicides by year's end.

That would be the highest body count since the city recorded 49 homicides in 2003, according to FBI figures.

"Something has changed in this jurisdiction to see more homicides," said Eric Witzig, a former homicide detective with 35 years of experience investigating homicides with the Washington, D.C., Police Department and the FBI.

Witzig now studies murder and homicide trends for the Murder Accountability Project. He says the two-year spike in homicides in Shreveport is "statistically significant" and can now be called a trend.

Referencing the city's 2016 homicide rate, Witzig points to the number of detectives working homicide cases in Shreveport.

"What we are seeing here in Shreveport is essentially a double of the number of homicides," Witzig said. "But has the number of homicide detectives changed in Shreveport?  Do we have twice the number of homicide detectives?"

According to officials with the Shreveport Police Officers Association, the department has eight detectives, two sergeants and one lieutenant working homicide cases. A number that has not doubled since the tide of homicides began rising in 2016.

After his son was fatally shot, Benjamin Finney Sr. said he was shocked to learn how few detectives work homicide cases in Shreveport.

The week his son was killed, he said, the detective assigned the case was on vacation leave. As Finney Sr. recalls, that first week of July was a particularly violent week in Shreveport. "We had two murders and three shootings," he exclaimed. "So how can you work that?"

"What is the optimum number of homicides that a homicide detective can handle in a year?" Witzig asked.

"What I am hearing is four," he said, referring to a study recently done by an agent in the FBI's behavioral analysis unit.

Based on homicide rates published in the Police Department's annual crime report and crime comparison reports, in 2016 and 2017, on average Shreveport investigators are handling five homicide cases a year.

From 2013 to 2015, the three years prior to Crump's initial promotion to interim police chief, those investigators were only getting assigned, on average, three homicide cases a year.

Over that three year span, Shreveport police made an average of 17 homicide arrests per year.  When the homicide rate doubled in 2016, arrests dropped to 11, according to department crime reports.

But last year, those detectives also were assigned roughly 35 shooting investigations, as well as other violent crime cases such as rape, robbery and aggravated assault, which also spiked in 2016.

Based on KSLA reporting, investigators have arrested 12 alleged killers this year with one suspect in a double murder apparently committing suicide.

According to Police Department figures, the homicide clearance rate (number of arrests made in comparison to the number of homicides committed) from 2013 through 2015 equaled or exceeded the national clearance rate.

"What's changed? Hopefully, it's not the resources given to the men and women of law enforcement as they get their work done," Witzig said.

The volume of cases being assigned to Shreveport violent crime detectives, including homicides, suggests that those detectives are being spread too thin because when the city saw a new wave of violent crime in 2016 and the homicide rate skyrocketed, the police department's clearance rate fell considerably.

"I did some rough back-of-the-envelope calculations before we talked," Witzig said. "And I came up with a clearance rate of 30% for Shreveport."

He based that clearance rate calculation on homicide numbers the police department reported to the FBI.

The national clearance rate is dropping as well, but Shreveport's rate now stands well below the national rate of 59%, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports.

KSLA Investigates asked Tyler and Crump to sit down and talk about the city's rising homicide rate and Witzig's question: "What has happened to cause the troubling spike in homicides?"

Neither official or their offices have answered that invitation.

In fact, the first week of October, KSLA Investigates submitted an open records request asking Police Department officials for the number of murder arrests made from 2015 through 2017 and the clearance rate for 2016 because, unlike in years past, the department's annual crime report did not publish that number that year.

Almost three weeks later, KSLA Investigates still is waiting for answers, and we have been told that request is now in the hands of the city attorney.

KSLA Investigates also asked the police d0epartment to give an exact count of the number detectives handling homicide cases in Shreveport.

With police officials failing to respond to that question, KSLA Investigates contacted the Shreveport Police Officers Association, which reported the number as nine, including six detectives.

"It's been really hard," Dessie Taylor said.

Her son Carlos Taylor Jr. was gunned down in April outside Hollywood Mini-Mart.

"I can't say that Junior is gone. He will always be in my spirit. He will always be in my heart no matter what."

Taylor says the detective handling her son's case has been great.

But she has been unable to find peace since his death.

"It just hurts that nobody has been able to come up to me and say 'Hey, we got everybody that's in this. They're going to get prosecuted," Taylor said.

Shreveport police did make an arrest in her son's case not long after he was killed.

"I said 'Wow, that was fast'," Taylor recalled.

However, like the Ben Finney Jr. case, Carlos Taylor Jr.'s alleged killer also walked free after it was determined that there was not enough evidence to go forward with prosecution, according to records KSLA reviewed at the Caddo district attorney's office.

In fact, four cases, including the Finney and Taylor homicides, have been dismissed this year for lack of evidence, just weeks after arrests were made.

That leaves grieving families to worry whether their loved one's killers will ever be brought to justice and why city leaders are not doing more to give the city's detectives the resources they need to build cases that bring convictions.

"Our mayor is trying to build a $100 million stadium for the D-League. But we got officers leaving every day," Finney Sr. said. "They're going to Texas and other states because of the pay here, and they just can't do it.

"Something has to change."

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