Neighborhood security districts, which have proliferated in New Orleans in the past two decades because of residents’ fear of crime, appear to reduce property crime rates, but not violent crime or murder rates, the New Orleans Office of Inspector General said in a report released Tuesday.
If all other factors are equal, the report says, security district patrols were “significantly associated with” a reduction of 23 percent in the average property crime rate. However, it says, other neighborhood characteristics, such as vacancy and homeownership rates, appeared to have a significantly greater effect.
Moreover, the report says, an examination of crime data before and after the recent formation of five new security districts found no clear trends.
Initial analysis “did not reveal any clear effect on crime related to the formation of these security districts,” created in 2010 through 2012 in Gentilly and New Orleans East. However, it says, the conclusions for these new districts were not definitive.
The existence of security districts, which provide extra patrols paid for by mandatory fees or taxes on residents, does not appear to have any spillover effects on surrounding areas in terms of either higher or lower crime rates, the report says.
In addition, the OIG’s analysis of New Orleans Police Department emergency response data found that the existence of security districts does not appear to influence NOPD presence in the affected areas. Security districts do not have either slower or faster NOPD response times than similar areas that do not have additional patrols, Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said.
The review examined all the districts that provided active patrol services as of August 2012. Most are in relatively affluent sections of Uptown, the lakefront and New Orleans East. They include about 16 percent of the city’s population.
The first security district in New Orleans began in 1997, and by August 2012 there were 25 active districts with combined revenues of $5.1 million, or an average of $200,000 per district. About 85 percent of that amount was spent directly on security patrols, which were provided by private companies (61 percent of total patrol hours), on-duty NOPD officers (30 percent, all in two districts, Lakeview and Mid-City) and off-duty officers (9 percent), the report says.
The report makes these other observations:
- Each security district is required to file annual financial statements with the Louisiana legislative auditor, but the districts “did not fully adhere to governance requirements established by law.” Problems included failure to monitor and update budgets adequately, shortcomings in public notice requirements and late filing of financial statements.
- In general, security districts are legally distinct from the City of New Orleans and the NOPD, but some types of patrols do have cost implications for city government. Patrols by off-duty and on-duty officers provided through cooperative endeavor agreements increase the city’s exposure to risks of loss or liability, as well as adding costs for the use of vehicles, fuel, and equipment. The on-duty officers “supplement the baseline service that would normally be provided and are typically in overtime status when working for the security districts.”
- Because security districts are available only to those able to pay additional taxes for increased services, they raise the question “of whether public safety should be treated as a private good at the neighborhood level, or as a public good at the citywide level.” On average, security district fees account for 10 percent of residents’ total property tax bills.
- Although residential security districts are a familiar feature in New Orleans, the OIG study found that they are not common in most other cities, particularly in residential neighborhoods. “Evaluators found very few other examples of residential security taxing districts outside of Louisiana and did not find any other cities with such a high concentration of them.”
Districts charged an average parcel fee of $325 in 2012; however, if the number of properties in each district was factored in, the weighted average was $260. The Mid-City security district had the highest total revenue, about $1 million, but charged a below-average tax of $200 for residential properties and $300 for commercial properties. The Garden District charged the highest tax, an average of $527 per property, based on a rate of 12 mils. The Lakeview security district charged the lowest tax, $110, but had the third-highest total revenue due to its large size.
One concern about security districts has always been whether their creation would cause the NOPD to reduce its regular activity within their boundaries. The enabling legislation for most districts requires them to provide services only in addition to the basic citywide police service, to ensure that the district patrols actually increase the total number of patrols in the area. Based on an analysis of NOPD response time for emergency calls inside and outside security districts, the OIG study found that in fact security district patrols are supplemental and are not offset by an equivalent reduction in NOPD service in the areas tested.