By Claire Salinas
With crime rates seemingly on the rise every year in Baton Rouge, many locals have begun to wonder what can be done to change the pattern. Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Program — better know as BRAVE — aims to answer that question with something a little outside of the box: the psychology of crime.
BRAVE’s leading researcher and organizational psychologist, Tracey Rizzuto, believes that analyzing offenders could change our community for the better.
“The focus…specifically targets juveniles who are engaged in group related violence,” Rizzuto said. “When you think about it, it’s hard to focus just on juveniles though because they commit crimes with adults. It’s organizational, systematic, violent crime.”
The initiative brings together service providers, faith based services, research and other community resources to address the issue.
“My part is the research component,” Rizzuto said. “I play a very small role in a very large system, it truly is a community intervention. There are some psychological influences that can predict crime and those have been explored, but what has been underexplored is the social dynamic of crime. The community structure you live in, the school you go to, the culture you’re in, all have an impact on whether you get into crime or not.”
Rizzuto uses social network analysis to quantify the social relationships people have which can often lead to violent crime.
“You can actually quantify and map the relationships people have with each other and understand patterns. As a result you can learn a lot about how groups and gangs operate,” said Rizzuto. “If I know that this individual has a history of engaging in violent crime with Larry, Mo, and Curly, and all of them have committed violent crimes, you can start to see a pattern or a network structure emerge for that juvenile.”
Rizzuto explains this model is revolutionary compared to the way violent crime has traditionally been viewed.
“The reality is crimes committed by one person are not the type of crimes that normally happen. Violent crime and murder are often committed against people who know each other. BRAVE uses Organizational Psychology and looks at how people know each other as a predict for who’s likely to commit a crime next, and who’s likely to be a victim next.”
BRAVE is not as much of a crime prevention initiative as it is a community initiative that aims to change culture and broaden influences that shape violent behavior.
“You need to target the influences that shape minds from all different angles,” Rizzuto said.
BRAVE hosted a community forum in partnership with Forum 35 on Tues., March 24, to give the community a better idea of what they do to reduce violent crime and what they can do to help.
“So far this has been largely framed as law enforcement initiative,” said Rizzuto. “I think that’s an important thing, because if you only think of BRAVEC as a policing initiative you don’t see the full impact it can have on the community. There have been some police initiatives in the past, but they haven’t been as effective because you cannot cure the issue of violence with those initiatives.”
Those who want to learn more about BRAVE can check out their website, www.bravebtr.com, or call the office at 225.239.7835 for more information.