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.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.