Much of what followed the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling, a black man in Baton Rouge, on July 5 has been well-chronicled. Philando Castile, also a black man, was killed a day later by a police officer in Minnesota. A day after that, five police officers were fatally shot in Dallas in an ambush during a protest against police violence. And on July 17, 10 days after the Dallas shootings, three officers were killed in Baton Rouge after responding to a call about a suspicious man with a rifle.
Outside the headlines, something else has been happening since Sterling was shot: The Baton Rouge Police Department has substantially reduced enforcement of narcotics offenses. That may sound like a small change, but narcotics enforcement can be an important glimpse into how often officers are going out of their way to engage in police work. Police officers do both reactive work (responding to 911 calls, for example) and proactive work (such as traffic stops that lead to drug arrests). In a moment of heightened tension between the police and a city’s residents, the trends in proactive policing can tell us whether officers are engaging with residents more or less often than they once did.
And a reduction in proactive policing could have a broader effect on Baton Rouge as a whole. Higher levels of violence have followed a reduction in narcotics enforcement in some cities whose police departments have been involved in high-profile deaths or the protests that followed. Will the same thing occur in Baton Rouge?
Baton Rouge’s open data portal provides information on more than 27,000 narcotics offenses1 from January 2011 to the present, and a review of those showed a clear change after Sterling was shot. The …