During the past 15 years, the Louisiana Legislature has created at least 50 crime prevention districts around the state, including many in south Louisiana. Those districts enable voters to decide whether to levy annual fees against themselves to fund extra police patrols. It’s unclear to what degree these special districts, taken as a whole, help lower crime in the state.
There’s nothing wrong with residents of neighborhoods agreeing among themselves to pay for extra security. It’s an especially direct form of local government, and government usually works best when it operates closest to those who fund it.
But there’s a danger, though, in touting crime prevention districts as the primary means to fight crime. For one thing, they’re only possible in neighborhoods where residents are affluent enough to pay more for extra police patrols. Such a crime-fighting model isn’t usually practical in poor neighborhoods, and these areas are, in fact, where criminal activity tends to be higher.
Crime prevention districts can also seem like a variation of gated communities, which seek to lock crime out of a relatively narrow area. Such approaches don’t address the larger problems driving crime, such as poverty, failing schools and the breakdown of too many families.
That’s why we’re encouraged by recent efforts in Baton Rouge and New Orleans to forge closer working relationships among law enforcement officials, churches, civic groups and social service agencies in fighting crime in troubled neighborhoods.
Fighting crime requires multiple solutions. We’re not against crime prevention districts, but they can easily be oversold.