Examining crime trends in St. Tammany Parish: Homicides, violent crime increase in 2020
Homicides were up in St. Tammany Parish last year, with 18 people losing their lives to violence in a year that was marked by three double homicides.
The number of 2020 killings compares to 11 homicides in 2019 and 10 in 2018 and comes close to the 2017 tally, when St. Tammany saw 20 homicides, an unusually high number that law enforcement officials said at the time was an anomaly.
Most of the homicides last year — 16 — occurred in unincorporated St. Tammany Parish. There were seven homicides in unincorporated St. Tammany in 2019, according to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office.
There were no homicides in Mandeville last year, compared to two in 2019. Slidell and Covington each had one homicide in 2020, the same number as in the previous year.
St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith said in a news release that the increase in violent crime — which he described as “slight” — follows a national tend that can be attributed in part to the coronavirus pandemic, which led to more domestic violence and narcotics-related crime.
The first homicide of 2020 fell into the domestic category: 28-year-old Juan Amaya is accused of fatally stabbing his 58-year-old father, Jose Amaya, during a fight at the family’s home near Covington in January.
Other domestic killings last year included a double murder and suicide in August, when 80-year-old Lawrence Lynchard killed his wife and adult daughter before taking his own life at their home near Pearl River, and a domestic homicide in which Fernando Cortez was accused of the stabbing death of his girlfriend at their home in Lacombe.
The double homicide of a pregnant woman and her boyfriend, whose bodies were found shot to death in a vehicle parked in the Big Branch area in July, is suspected to be drug related, as was the death of a Slidell High student in February.
The final homicides of the year occurred in December, when four armed men broke into a house in Lacombe. Two were fatally shot by the homeowner. The two who survived were booked with two counts of first-degree murder as well as armed robbery and home invasion. The homeowner was not charged, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Smith said only one of the homicides in unincorporated St. Tammany Parish remains unsolved — another home invasion, this one in November, that triggered an exchange of gunfire. That shooting in the Alton community left one man dead, and there have been no arrests.
Smith noted that the Sheriff’s Office has a clearance rate of nearly twice the national average for violent crimes and 2.5 times the national average for nonviolent crimes.
The parish saw a decrease in nonviolent crimes that Smith credited in part to public education efforts on the need to lock doors and secure valuables.
Mandeville Police Chief Gerald Sticker also reported a 75% decrease in thefts. Sticker said that decrease might stem from the prevalence of curbside pickup at stores.
Slidell, the parish’s largest municipality, saw an 8% decrease in violent crime last year, according to a news release. But overall crime was up 9%, driven by an 11% increase in property crimes such as burglary and theft, Slidell Police Chief Randy Fandal said.
Fandal said he is working with Mayor Greg Cromer and the City Council to beef up staffing levels. Fandal said he has been forced to use overtime and grants to maintain enforcement levels. Slidell’s population continues to grow, but he’s been unable to offer competitive pay and benefits to officers, he added.
“We have been working short-handed for the last several years, but this year as been the worst,” Fandal said of 2020. “Our officers are jumping from call to call with little to no downtime. This creates a reactive police force.”
He said he is working with Slidell Mayor Greg Cromer and the City Council to address the problem.
Overall crime was down 4% in Covington, the Covington Police Department said. according to statistics released by that city’s Police Department. The number of robberies doubled, from three in 2019 to six last year, and thefts were up 11%, from 106 in 2019 to 118 in 2020. Aggravated assault and motor vehicle theft decreased slightly in 2020. The biggest drop came in the number of burglaries, with 21 reported in 2020 compared to 48 in 2019.
Covington officers each received a $4,000 raise in salary on Sept. 1 after Mayor Mark Johnson and the City Council supported increases in water/sewer bills to provide police better pay. Covington’s police were the lowest paid in the parish, and officers trained and outfitted by the department were jumping to better pay at other area law enforcement agencies after only a short time on the force.
The salary hike has helped attract new hires and should help retain them, Chief Stephen Culotta previously said.