Wednesday, November 14, 2012


NOPD is at the city budget hearing this morning.  What I can glean from the tweets is nobody is happy with the current police staffing but Serpas is trying to keep everyone happy by telling them he's doing "more with less."

He's re-drawn his districts and bought some new software that apparently helps him make things look statistically prettier... and he's proud of this.

He's taken the time to personally ask some young people to please not murder anybody.

He's collecting everybody's blood for a DNA database.

And finally there's this initiative which I can't wait to read more about

Actually there's more but we'll wait for the reports.  The point is, I was reminded of a story that ran on WWL a  few weeks ago about how more and more neighborhoods are plugging this budget hole by electing to double tax themselves for private security patrols.
These self-taxing districts charge residents an annual fee for each parcel they own. It's usually hundreds of dollars. Some districts collect a millage, or a percentage of your assessed property.

These district are created when residents get state legislation passed, allowing for a neighborhood vote on the issue. They are almost always approved by voters.

A close review of Security District financial audits and filings reveals the groups wield a significant amount of power and money.

Some have million dollar budgets and have security staffs that rival the size of whole police districts. A majority of the neighborhood must vote to approve a district, but typically a handful of commissioners make the decisions. And there is little to no oversight.
In other words, unlike Serpas, the private patrols never have to go in front of City Council and brag about how their magic mapping apps produced  a 7% reduction in the incidence of non-violent personal odors within  a specific 2 block area or whatever. They do get to keep the money, though.
Critics say the security district system promotes inequitable policing and is rife with issues. They say these districts only serve to prop up a police department that is undersized.

“There is the issue of double taxation…Why am I buying stuff that I thought I paid for in taxes,” said Peter Scharf, a criminologist and professor at Tulane University. “People are building their own fortresses, their own private security. It raises a lot of issues.”

The private patrols cost the average homeowner hundreds of dollars a year. And according to city records, through September of this year, citizens in select neighborhoods have paid roughly $6 million for security in these districts .

For that money, the whole City of New Orleans could pay for roughly 85 additional NOPD officers, the equivalent of an entire police district. Or they could pay the annual budget of the Covington Police Department, twice.
 But instead of just putting that money into NOPD, what are the double-taxes paying for? 
Eyewitness Investigates found no common standards among the security districts. Some pay off-duty NOPD cops to act as NOPD cops. Others pay private patrol officers. They don’t have the arrest or investigative powers that the NOPD does;  they are largely a visual deterrent.
So nobody knows, exactly. Although in a lot of cases it sounds like they're getting a "Bear Patrol" 

Homer: Well, there's not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is sure doing its job.
Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, sweetie.
Lisa: Dad, what if I were to tell you that this rock keeps away tigers.
Homer: Uh-huh, and how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work. It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: I see.
Lisa: But you don't see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: Lisa, I'd like to buy your rock.

Selling  bear or tiger talismans to scared taxpayers must be pretty good work if you can get it.  I wonder who can get that sort of work.

The decision-makers on these boards are mostly volunteer neighborhood leaders, including political appointees. The exception is Shelley Landrieu, the mayor’s sister. She has been a paid administrator for the Garden District Group, one of the oldest districts, since about 1998. She now runs four security districts, and reports directly to those respective boards.

“I think because the city is under financial restraints as we know,” Landrieu said, “ I think people are just taking things into their own hands like they have done in lots of areas, especially after Katrina.”

The WWL story includes a  handy Google map of  all current Orleans Parish security districts so we can see which neighborhoods "are taking things into their own hands" as Landrieu puts it. It also gives you an idea of where the boundaries are between jurisdictions in your increasingly balkanized city which, under the right circumstances could become a powder keg.  We've read previously about certain flashpoints between Mid-City and Lakeview, for example.

Plans for a transfer station to accommodate streetcars and buses near the intersection of Canal Boulevard and City Park Avenue in Lakeview have run into a brick wall of neighborhood opposition twice before. Hoping the third time will be the charm, Regional Transit Authority officials are ready to float the idea once again.

"When the community says they don't want something, I want to hear them out," said Barbara Major, chairwoman of the RTA board. "But I also have a responsibility to protect riders.
WWL's story makes these two out to be the most aggressive of the security districts profiled. And look at where the border is.

View Security/Improvement Districts of New Orleans in a larger map

So when the inevitable Private Security Patrol Battle of City Park Avenue happens, just remember who tried to warn you.

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