A recent report published by USA Today ranking the Houma-Thibodaux area 10th out of 25 cities in the country with soaring violent crime has local law enforcement officials scratching their heads.

“To be ranked No. 10 on that list was a shock to me,” Houma Police Chief Dana Coleman said. “Just a few years ago, we were one of the safest cities, and now to be on a list like that is shocking. We’re doing everything we can to ensure the citizens living in Houma that they have adequate protection.”

Compiled by website 24/7 Wall St. and published Friday by USA Today, the report measured violent crime statistics over the past five years. In 2011, the violent crime rate was 314.6 per 100,000 people in Houma-Thibodaux, according to the report. That number spiked in 2016 to 449.1 per 100,000 people.

The report lists the area’s unemployment rate as 4.6 percent with a 20.9 percent poverty rate.

“Crime rates often increase in periods of economic decline, and Houma-Thibodaux is one of only two metro areas considered to report a higher poverty rate in 2016 than in 2011,” the report says. “Half a decade ago, 16.0 percent of the population lived in poverty, compared to a 20.9 percent poverty rate in 2016.”

However, the numbers presented in the report are misleading, Coleman said.

“Our stats from 2015, 2016 and 2017 that we submit to the FBI every year show a constant decrease in every violent crime category,” Coleman said. “I don’t think it’s fair to us or Thibodaux to combine numbers like that.”

Houma had seven homicides in 2015, 17 rapes, 44 robberies and 1,492 thefts, Coleman said. In 2016, Houma recorded five homicides, 17 rapes, 62 robberies and 1,159 reported thefts. In 2017, Houma had just one homicide, 17 reported rapes, 25 robberies and 1,027 thefts.

Coleman attributes the spike in homicides and other violent crimes in 2015 to the beginning of the opioid crisis.

“In 2015, the heroin epidemic reared its ugly head,” Coleman said. “We immediately noticed that we had to address the drug problem in Houma, and we did that. We had seven homicides in four months at the end of 2015 and solved six of them. But from 2015 to 2016 our homicides decreased as did most of the other violent crimes reported.”

There were only two homicides in Terrebonne Parish in 2017, and neither of them involved shootings or drugs, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said.

“The years before that it was mostly drug dealers shooting at each other,” Larpenter said. “We didn’t have that many as compared to bigger cities like New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Our records speak for themselves. I think people in Terrebonne and Lafourche know better. Law enforcement is doing the best it can with the resources we have.”

Thibodaux Police Chief Bryan Zeringue also criticized the report for consolidating multiple jurisdictions into one entity.

“Thibodaux addresses include parts of Terrebonne Parish, Lafourche Parish and Assumption Parish, which are not within the city limits of Thibodaux, so they fall outside of our jurisdiction,” Zeringue said. “Grouping multiple jurisdictions together for crime and safety can distort reality for an individual community.”

From 2015 to 2017 Thibodaux police performed 58,184 extra patrols, 8,268 foot patrols and 14,691 building checks in an effort to fight crime, Zeringue said. 

“This work is on top of our community relations efforts and high volume of traffic stops that we conduct to correlate with our high visibility enforcement strategy,” Zeringue said. “Unfortunately, despite all of our proactive policing efforts, violent crimes do happen. We don’t like to compare ourselves to other cities to show the high level of safety and quality of life we enjoy in Thibodaux. What we do like to do is compare ourselves with ourselves in an effort to constantly be better than we were the day before, and we will continue to do that until our violent crime number is zero.” 

--Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 857-2202 or at dan.copp@houmatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanVCopp.