Jan 102013

Dat Dog owner Constantine Georges speaks in favor of a proposed security district to hire private patrols in the Freret neighborhood at a neighborhood meeting Tuesday evening. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

A fee of $300 per year on properties in the Freret neighborhood could generate enough money for around-the-clock private security patrols, organizers said this week after examining a map of tax-paying parcels.

Several members of The New Freret business and property owners association and the Freret Neighbors United residents’ group have been discussing the creation of a security district in the neighborhood, and on Tuesday presented the first detailed proposal. The district they envision would run between Jefferson and Napoleon Avenues, from Claiborne Avenue to Danneel, essentially bumping up against two already formed private patrols on the Jefferson and Danneel sides.

The boundaries of the Freret security district overlayed on a NOPD map of armed robberies (1), arson (1), gun cases (1) and house break-ins (about a dozen) over the last six months.

Within that area, they count 975 properties that aren’t exempt from taxes, such as those owned by the Isidore Newman School or Archdiocese of New Orleans. A $300 annual fee for the district — even accounting for the 10 percent or so of those properties that will be delinquent on their taxes — will raise more than $260,000, enough to cover 24 hours of coverage 365 days per year at a $25 hourly rate quoted by the New Orleans Private Patrol, said Kellie Grengs of The New Freret at Tuesday night’s meeting of Neighbors United. The rest of the money would cover additional expenses, such as cell phones, GPS monitoring, insurance, a website and administrative fees, Grengs said.

The fact that a security district is within reach is largely because so many blighted buildings in the Freret area have been sold and renovated, Grengs said.

“We actually have a tax base in our neighborhood, which for years was just really, really low,” Grengs said.

A review of crime reports for the last six months shows relatively little violent crime within the district’s boundaries. Only one armed robbery was reported, when a Dat Dog employee was shot during a holdup last month, and all of the assault cases were “simple assaults,” suggesting fights and altercations where no weapon was used. About a dozen homes were burglarized during that time; one gun was seized, and one arson was reported.

Residents complain, however, that there is an underbelly of dangerous crime that doesn’t rise to the level of crime maps, such as shots being fired in the neighborhood, residents being intimidated by drug-dealing neighbors, and even some nexus to the notorious Telly Hankton drug-and-murder ring. On the other hand, Michelle Ingram of Zeus’ Place noted that both the Dat Dog robbery and the arson quickly led to arrests because neighbors got engaged with the police.

“We’re a tight community. We have cameras and we have people who want to get involved,” Ingram said at the meeting. “I think adding another layer of security, someone who knows us as well as we know each other, would be a major plus.”

The group of two dozen or so people at the meeting briefly debated whether businesses along the corridor should pay more for the fee than residences. Jane Dimitry suggested that their customers make easier targets for criminals, and others suggested that the businesses would benefit more from their customers feeling safer.

Dat Dog owner Constantine Georges, however, said that businesses are already taking costly steps to protect themselves and the neighborhood (Ingram said the extensive system of cameras at Zeus’ Place cost $15,000). A former federal prosecutor, Georges said installing security cameras at each of the 975 residences might be the most effective solution, but isn’t practically doable.

Ultimately, Georges said, the businesses and residents should work together toward a security district.

“The best way to prevent crime is keep person who would commit the crime from believing he’s going to get away with it,” Georges said. “Having people on the street is one of the best ways.”

District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell attended the discussion, and said she understood that state Rep. Neil Abramson already plans to sponsor the state legislation that would be needed to put the idea on a ballot for voters in Ward 13 precincts 11 through 14. When Cantrell asked when the Freret organizers hoped to take the security district to the polls, Grengs suggested early in 2014, so it could be tacked onto another election in the city to increase turnout.

“This is our year of sharing information,” Grengs said.

  20 Responses to “$300 per year can provide Freret residents with 24-hour security patrols, proponents estimate”

  1. It’s a great idea and it may even help to raise the property values in the area, as well as to convince new home buyers to consider the freret st area. It’s got the potential to be a great neighborhood, but it doesn’t feel very safe only a few blocks off the main strip.

    • Hi Angela,
      I agree. It is not safe a block or two off the main corridor and our neighbors deserve a better quality of life for less than $1 a day. There are over 20 current security districts in NOLA and they appear to be working. We cannot expect the NOPD to be everywhere, in every area 24/7. We want the area for residents and visitors.
      Kellie Grengs
      Volunteer Board Member
      The New Freret

  2. As Freret area residents are made aware of this proposal — and I hope everybody gets at least a flyer or letter — they should also be advised of the crime stats cited above. They should also be informed that ProjectNOLA.com still offers excellent, inexpensive crime cameras for your home or business. How many of these would $260,000 buy? Almost 1000 cameras! Worth working into the budget, I say.

    • Hi TimGNO,
      All residents in the proposed district will receive a direct mailer explaining all of the info. This is the 4th public forum we have held in the neighborhood since October 2013. Cameras are great- I have several on my home and I am thrilled so many of the businesses also have them. The issue with putting 975 cameras out there is the monitoring and training the homeowners. It was mentioned and encouraged at the meeting that homeowners invest in at least 1 camera thru the ProjectNOLA program.

      Kellie Grengs
      Volunteer Board Member
      The New Freret

      • I felt it was important to comment, especially as my neighborhood last year nearly fell into a security district without prior knowledge — a handful of residents attempted to push through new legislation without advising the residents (simply discussed it among themselves, and even got the legislation drafted before word got out!). In turn, we pass around a petition which revealed about 85% of residents rejected the idea of a paid security district. Then again, our crime numbers are somewhat lower than those of the Freret area, and we have a fantastic working relationship with NOPD.
        We once DID have a private patrol, for 20 years, but it tanked due to lack of participation. And FYI, there are actually 33 current security districts in Orleans Parish — by anyone’s account, are they really serving to curb crime throughout the City?

        • Tim-
          Good points, as I said above- learn from experience…
          The “lack participation” that caused yours to “tank”, is NOLA same old, same old…
          This is the New Freret, so lets not complain/blame, lets do starting with this.
          Unlike your neighborhood, get as many involved as possible to start, as to meet, listen, and customize a plan that fits us.
          We did it 7 years ago with Freret Streets Zoning and AC overlay, do it again now.
          If it does not pass, we still win with more neighbors engaged and other solutions ready to try.
          Or if it does pass, we have an educated watch dog of a tax-base to help keep it on track.
          And to those of you like Drew Ward, who correctly point out we already pay
          “$1500-3000 per year for 24-hour security: it’s called the NOPD”
          I say, your right, but most of y’all in this proposed area (not me- my home/studio is new
          construction and built to last…) just landed this huge tax credit-
          FYI- I was very opposed to, but had no say…
          Use the money you make painting your homes/property-
          and spend spend it on this, and lets vote every few years and get rid of it when we can.
          Myself and many other Freretians have network of CCTV cameras (+ there is Brian L. at
          Project NOLA), but look at the map- we still have a problem- NOW!!!
          If not this, whats your solution?
          Best from Freret ,
          Andy Brott

          • If there’s one neighborhood that can make this happen in a meaningful way, it’s Freret! I do hope the crime stats over the ensuing years will bear out the theory that security districts curtail crime — I’ve been researching this question for many years now, and not a shred of empirical evidence has ever surfaced.
            Call me a skeptic, but I’m dubious of the claims made by “the experts” (e.g. Shelley Landrieu, the mayor’s sister, who operates several such entities Uptown; or certain former NOPD commanders who managed the off-duty patrols themselves) when they are invariably summoned to pitch the idea to residents.
            It has likewise proven impossible to obtain (because they are considered sensitive internal information) NOPD’s so-called “heat maps” detailing where, when and how on-duty patrol cars are deployed with respect to functioning security districts (SD). So, it remains an open question (unless you rely on NOPD’s assurances) whether their manpower is shifted away from such areas. One would like to believe this is not a zero-sum game, as it were.
            Finally, despite months and years of investigation by smart people I trust, nobody has come up with certifiable positive evidence that an SD leads to lower crime numbers. My own number-crunching yielded surprising results: The brashest claims, made by Mid-City’s SD, of a 10% drop in reported crimes … was statistically indistinguishable from trends (of lower crime) in the district as a whole over the same time span. So I toted up the SD’s cost and divided it by the handful of presumably “avoided” incidents, and discovered each circumvention costs many thousands of dollars (i.e. more than the majority of UCR crimes cost a victim).
            While I would hate to see Security Districts revealed as an outright sham (crime fighting-wise), and encourage further research on the topic, it is indisputable that such efforts do galvanize a neighborhood by bringing concerned individuals like yourself (and kudos to you for all your efforts — Freret is blessed to have you and lots of dedicated community builders in the fold!) together.
            Then again, crime sprees always have. The flip side of the coin is that residents become complacent when “things are fine” and I sincerely HOPE the implementation of a security district does not hasten people toward relaxing their own guard. It bears noting that, in my neighborhood, crime went down shortly after our patrol of 20 years disbanded. Why? Because residents were forced to become more aware of their surroundings and eventually learned to dial 911 (instead of the patrol, who was often elsewhere) whenever something suspicious happens.
            Please excuse my lengthy reply … I want to see Freret move forward with as many objective facts in hand as possible, and wish you all the best of luck!

          • Tim-
            THANK YOU!!!!!
            NOLA same old, same old has got to be stopped for us as region to grow and attract new businesses.
            If we want less crime, more cops and “escorting” the nefarious out of the area is not the answer, it’s a band-aid on a dirty chest wound- and reeks of American same old- same old gated communities…

            Good jobs + good schools= less crime- not more in jail….
            (side bar- don’t know when Journalistic awards come out, but former “Dirty”-TP reporter Cindy Chang need one as she and others nailed why we are in this mess before she left for LA with her expose on our Criminal Justice System).
            + please help us as the data comes in- + look for and expose flaws.
            I know they are looking for data that shows how many are in this quadrant who older fixed income as to make sure their needs are met.
            + All has to be more than a police state investing in longer term solutions the Jane Jacobs way-
            – So for those reading this with time and resources to help, we also need to start /run “The Friends of Evans Playground” and work with Coach Wayne and NORD to do little league and other outreach,-please email me through http://www.brottworks.com if your interested….
            Best from Freret,

  3. Property owners in the Freret neighbourhood already pay $1500-3000 per year for 24-hour security: it’s called the NOPD and it’s funded by the exorbitant property taxes we all pay!

    Quit wasting money on these goofy studies and start either firing politicians or arresting administrators until NOPD decides to actually do their jobs!!

    • Hi Drew,
      We actually have not expended any funds on a “goofy study”. We are sharing information that is available to all via crime mapping online via neighborhood forums. Should you live in one of these 4 precincts you will receive a direct mailer explaining the process, you are also welcome to attend the monthly community meetings to be part of the solution. There are 20+ security districts in place in NOLA and they appear to be working. We are studying this from all angles and attempting to make solutions to the current lack of NOPD presence- which we have little control over.
      You will also get to go to the polls to vote on this proposed district should you reside in one of the 4 precincts.
      Kellie Grengs
      Volunteer Board Member
      The New Freret

  4. Protection? Isn’t this what NOPD is supposed to do? So, let me get this straight. You’re going to hire off-duty NOPD officers (aka, special detail) to do the same work they are supposed to do when on-duty. Some cynics might suggest, but not me, that that the lack of effective police protection is actually a marketing effort to ensure that special detail work abounds and has steady funding.

    • Hi Diogonese,
      Yes, the plan is to hire from one of the many security services that are available besides the NOPD. We are considering NOPP and Vinsion- two companies that do not employ off-duty. Currently, the the NOPD is down in their numbers and they cannot be everywhere. There are currently over 20 security districts in New Orleans. This is not new territory we are treading. The Freret area bumps up against two existing security districts (including our Mayor’s home on Octavia). Our neighbors are demanding a better quality of life and for less than $1 day it is manageable.
      If you live in one of these 4 precincts you will get a direct mailer explaining and of course you will get to go to the polls and vote.
      Kellie Grengs
      Volunteer Board Member
      The New Freret

      • One question that comes up often during these discussions is, “Who can vote and how will the vote be decided?”
        A: Security districts can be voted on during specific types of city-wide elections, and the proposal will appear on the ballot for those in covered precincts only. Official notice of the proposal has to be posted publicly at least twice in advance of the vote.
        The amendment will pass or fail by a simple majority of the vote. For example, if 2000 people live in your neighborhood and 5% of them cast ballots at the polls on election day — that’s 100 people voting — only 51 of them need to vote “Yes” or “No” for the Security District to be accepted or rejected.

  5. After seeing what it did in Touro B. and knowing how many officers are actually on the streets at any given time- I’m all for it.
    Yes we pay for NOPD, and they risk their lives daily, but they are way understaffed, and it takes time to fix or mess.
    We need to try and find long term solutions to social stratification, and we can’t arrest our way out of NOLA dysfunctions.

    The problem is now, and done done right we can learn from others mistakes- use what works, and be transparent as possible to hopefully more involved in finding long term solutions. This would be a good start- and kudos to us talking about it and signing our names to it.

    Best from Freret,

    Andy Brott

    • As was discussed at last night’s Second District NONPACC meeting, in part, plus some of my own thoughts:

      (0) Add the City of New Orleans to the list of potential beneficiaries whenever a new security district (SD) is established; the Board of Liquidations (which handles all accounting and disbursements) skims a 1% administrative fee from SD gross revenue.

      (1) The neighborhood immediately to the west of Freret — Upper Rickerville, where the Mayor lives — is NOT a security district; instead, they operate a private patrol, managed by volunteers, with voluntary membership.

      (2) Elsewhere in my replies (below) I indicated that several former NOPD commanders were called in as “experts” to pitch new SD’s around town. I want to make clear this does not include any current commanders, especially Cdr. Noel of 2nd, who has been exemplary in maintaining a completely neutral stance on the issue.

      (3) As to Andy’s insightful suggestion that a “long term solution” is needed, it bears noting that NOT ONCE have residents voted to eliminate (nor has a sitting board elected to dissolve) an active security district, regardless of its effectiveness. Despite what SD by-laws routinely spell out, it is rare if ever that board members assess the situation and declare, “This isn’t working, let’s disband.” (My neighborhood had to do so with our private patrol, due to diminished participation, so I count us as a successful social experiment.)

      (4) To be sure, security districts bring about certain intangibles that are hard to measure, not the least of which are peace of mind, increased property values, and the pleasure of being escorted to one’s front door at night by an armed patrolman. At the same time, once you realize (as we did) that that is ALL a patrol is doing during most shifts, you have to admit these amount to very expensive perks!

      (5) One mustn’t ignore the impact of an SD’s cost on landlords (many of whom are absentee and therefore HAVE NO VOTE in the matter), who invariably pass along the expense to tenants in the form of higher rent … at a time when rents are already steep owing to increased utility bills, property taxes, water rates, sanitation fees, etc. Property owners must also recognize that, since SD membership is a fee — not a tax — paid for a service, so is never deductible.

      (6) Many people I’ve canvassed, especially owners who may live outside the SD bounds, feel that the imposition of a fee without their consent is like “taxation without representation”. They are quick to point out, as well, that their tenants are unlikely to vote — or even be registered to vote! — on the matter. The “experts” may claim that SD’s improve the rental market by justifying higher rents (or lower turnover or vacancies, etc.) and by attracting new renters to a protected area, and that landlords will therefore gladly absorb the costs.

      (7) Past experience shows it is incredibly difficult to manage patrols such that their operation — hours worked, miles covered, area patrolled, escorts conducted, etc. — is well-documented and transparent. I have heard every conceivable argument (from patrol foremen) AGAINST: having GPS in the vehicle; punching a clock; using a camera; placing a light atop the vehicle; marking the car; filling out a 1099 form; doing direct deposit of pay; etc.

      (8) Finally, let’s tease apart some jargon. “Security Districts” are state-legislated entities in which a patrol may (or may not) be hired. Such patrols may (or may not) be 24/7 — smaller neighborhoods simply cannot generate enough revenue for round-the-clock coverage. “Private patrols” are local affairs, sometimes as small as a single block or street. Membership to patrols may (or may not) be mandatory; most are voluntary.
      Some “Tax Districts” collect fees for programs other than patrols (e.g. beautification, repaving, etc.), and are sometimes called “Improvement Districts” — though they routinely toy with adding elements of crime prevention (safety training, surveillance cameras, etc.) as the mood strikes.
      Lastly, the choice of which parcels (built-on and/or vacant, residential and/or commercial) will be subject to paying for an SD, and which residents (elderly, low-income, impaired, etc.) will be exempt from paying, is entirely up to the SD board members — as with all other aspects of the enterprise.

  6. Would these rent-a-cops have the power of arrest? I don’t think so. With so many security districts in New Orleans you’d think we’d have virtually no crime. Yet we have tons of crime. Call me cynical, but I have feeling that having low paid fake cops driving around in old pickups won’t exactly put the fear of God in the typical Chocolate City criminal.

  7. Over 20 security districts in the city…and growing! That’s a lot of private armies. It’s also a mighty slippery slope as the “have’s” arm themselves against the “have nots.”

  8. Despite appearances, I believe we’re close to being on the same page around this issue.
    Why was I against, then for, and ultimately against security districts over the past 10 years? Because 10 years ago, there were just a couple in operation, and no data (not even anecdotal) existed … by 5 years ago, there were 25 of them, and I assumed that THAT many people can’t be wrong (though clearly there was a post-K “reactionary” scent in the air) … and 2 years ago, I realized it would be impossible ever to pin down empirical proof that security districts were helping in any tangible way.
    What puzzles me above all is, if virtually everyone is “for” coughing up $300 more per year in the name of security, why are so many people opposed to a City-wide tax increase to pay for more police? Granted, NOPD already consumes 1/3 of the City’s overall operations budget … and the $5,000,000 currently being paid into security districts would only translate into hiring about 90 more cops. But that’s 90 MORE COPS! (That’s 11 more officers on the beat per district … thus TRIPLING current manpower!)
    If *everyone* in New Orleans paid the same extra $300/yr. or $1/day, the numbers double yet again.
    So I’m willing to sound like a party pooper if only to make folks take stock of all the available options, and not necessarily follow in the footsteps of those who followed in the footsteps of those who … took it on faith that hiring their own security force would lessen crime.

    Other than that, I’m totally with you. 🙂

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