Jacques Roy is the Mayor of Alexandria, Louisiana. In 2010-2011, Mayor Roy and staffers Lamar White and Daniel Smith began working with SafeGrowth. Following the staffers attendance at a SafeGrowth workshop they brought concepts back to Alexandria. Later in the year I presented SafeGrowth at a development summit and was asked to tailor a program with the Alexandria administration. This became the Safe Alex initiative. In this guest blog Mayor Roy offers thoughts about where SafeAlex is today.
Neighborhoods are the lynchpin for sustainable success in preventing crime and tackling blight. A few years ago, a bold editorial in a local paper declared that our SafeAlex program would not take root unless it was police led and police dominated.
While I do not want to simplify this complex issue to an absurdity or add meaningless clichés, holistic approaches that make communities take responsibility, I suspect, will beat out the belief that some single government organization or actor can provide all the answers.
The idea that someone else must resolve “my problem” is dangerous on many levels. It is counter to everything we teach kids about self-reliance and how to sustain a successful marriage, job, family, and life. Indeed, society’s overweening belief in “Minority Report,” “Robocop,” and “Judge Dredd,” as what we seek from governments is misplaced. I am not even sure it should be desired.
BOOTS ON THE GROUND
Reactive enforcement, saturation, and plain old boots-on-the-ground — to be sure — have a place. Crime is multi-faceted and its reduction, roots, sentinel causes, and its responses seem to work one day and then become inexplicably unresponsive the next. Holistic, neighborhood-based programs, supported by police and city departments, are the way forward. This is the essence of SafeAlex, which not only has taken root, but is showing reduction in several benchmark categories. We are now expanding the program.
The newspaper editorial said: “The idea is laudable, but it will not take root under current conditions. When a house is on fire, you call firefighters and pump water until it’s out. The police should lead the crime prevention effort, not the community.”
Yes, you do. But, when you want to teach fire prevention, you use neighborhood meeting halls and senior organizations to explain the dangers of unmonitored space heaters in older homes. You educate citizens about checking on their elderly family members in cold winter months. You create a strong neighborhood because the fireman cannot be at every house, every minute.
I am a pragmatist; I am suspicious of programming unless you can reproduce results and attach metrics that are reliable. We are doing this right now. As with many of our programs, this was born of necessity, the mother of invention. During the summer of 2009, the city saw six shootings on a particular street (a lot for my city).
LAUNCHING THE PROGRAM
The program started with two very bright assistants, Lamar White Jr. and Daniel Smith, and me wanting to address development and knowing we had to address obstacles to development in these areas. That “hot summer” just gnawed at the staff. I met with those two assistants often to discuss new policy formulation, and then we rolled into a planning and develop summit, SPARC, in December of 2010. By that time, we were working with CPTED and SafeGrowth concepts.
Our policy statement remains the position of the Administration:confronting and reducing crime requires difficult decisions, bold action, and challenging many of our preconceived notions and practices. It requires us to confront some hard truths, not only about the efficacy of law enforcement practices, but also about the responsibilities of parents; the role of teachers, schools, churches, and the courts; and the effectiveness of neighborhood watch groups and other community organizations.
We invite other communities to have a look at what we’ve done. We believe this could be tweaked and used in other communities and we believe your experiences will help all of us promote evidence-based programming in our cities. We can be a lighthouse for 21st Century American cities.