Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy’s Innovative Crime Prevention Initiative: “A 21st Century Lighthouse”

Earlier this week, Greg Saville, an internationally-renowned expert in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (also known as CPTED) and SafeGrowth, published a guest column on his website by Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy, “SafeAlex: A 21st Century Lighthouse.” SafeAlex is Mayor Roy’s new and innovative crime prevention initiative, and, according to Saville, it is the very first program in the nation that “explicitly incorporates” SafeGrowth as a strategy to combat crime and enhance community development.

Although the program is still in its infancy, the results are staggering. As recently reported in The Town Talk, crime in Alexandria has noticeably decreased since the program was launched.

“Virtually every index crime is down for 2012 as compared to 2011 and 2010,” Alexandria Police Chief Loren M. Lampert said in a recent interview.

SafeAlex, at its core, is about empowering neighborhoods with the resources necessary to develop their own individualized plans of action. It flips the traditional, top-down policing approach on its head. Neighborhood leaders become block captains, collaborating with law enforcement to ensure that “community policing” is truly responsive and is built on a foundation of mutual trust and cooperation.

SafeAlex is also about ensuring that neighborhoods grow “safely,” which means improving the built environment. For example, SafeAlex is already sponsoring the development of a community garden in District One. It may not seem immediately obvious, but neighborhood projects like community gardens can also become crime prevention tools. In addition to the public health benefits, transforming and reclaiming a vacant or blighted lot into a garden enhances value for the entire neighborhood. In other words, crime prevention isn’t just about law enforcement; it’s also about building neighborhoods that look and feel safe. The seemingly small details matter: Well-lit streets, graffiti abatement, well-kept gardens and well-maintained community centers, neighborhoods that don’t exclusively rely on the government to pick up litter, the eradication and demolition of blighted and vacant homes. This, to me, is an equally astonishing statistic about the effectiveness of SafeAlex (bold mine):

This year, according to a recent SafeAlex report, the program helped to get 30 structures closed or demolished, assisted with getting 26 properties cleaned up and helped to resolve complaints about drug activity or public nuisances in 35 buildings.

“Several times I called about different little problems in my neighborhood,” Haller said. “Each time it worked perfectly. They seemed to get the job done. They do a fantastic job and it works. Anything you see in your neighborhood that doesn’t look right, if you call, they know who to call to get something done. I think it’s been most helpful and I have passed the word on to others to at least try them, and it has worked out each time.”

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As many of you know, I spent over five years working as an assistant to Mayor Roy, and throughout those five years, I was incredibly fortunate to be able to help him and his staff (my colleagues) develop a series of large-scale initiatives. And though I am undoubtedly biased and even at the risk of sounding like I’m bragging, I earnestly believe that the initiatives we developed as a team– and the projects that Mayor Roy continues to implement– are models that should be followed by cities all across the country.

Less than a week before Lehman Brothers collapsed and lending froze up, Mayor Roy and our team were able to finance the single-largest infrastructure redevelopment project in Alexandria history, a project, known as SPARC, that has already changed the built environment in Alexandria and one that is guaranteed to enhance, beautify, and modernize Alexandria’s streets and public spaces in ways that even the local newspaper has never fully understood.

I’ve been living in Dallas for the last year and a half and have only been back to Alexandria a handful of times. When I was there during the holiday break, I asked my friend Jonathan Bolen, who now works in the same position I had with Mayor Roy, to take me on a tour of SPARC projects. If you live in Alexandria, it may be difficult to notice the changes, but for someone who hadn’t been there in months, the changes were immediately noticeable: Masonic Drive finally looks like the recreation corridor it has always really been, with sidewalks, beautiful signage, and gateway monuments that flank both sides. Bolton Avenue has been completely repaved, and construction is underway on a series of beautification enhancements around the community center. Lincoln Park finally has a walking trail; Martin Park’s park looks the best it ever has; Frank O. Hunter Park is a massive construction zone. And, if you take the time to really tour the City, the list goes on.

Because I worked for Mayor Roy for five years, I know what is still on the books, and I know that this is only the beginning.

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Back to SafeAlex: In his column, Mayor Roy writes about how The Town Talk responded when he first pitched the initiative. Quoting:

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….

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.”

I vividly remember this editorial, which was written by Town Talk editor Paul Carty. In all of the time I worked for Mayor Roy, I never met Paul Carty even once. He never met with City staff; I’m not even sure if he ever even visited City Hall. Now, don’t get me wrong: I do not believe the local newspaper should ever be a mouthpiece for any political administration. But Carty’s lack of intellectual curiosity results in journalistic laziness, and that, I’m afraid, further imperils the institutional integrity of a once-proud newspaper and makes it much more difficult for a city like Alexandria to muster the political will necessary to adapt, change, and innovate. I had noticed Carty’s willful ignorance before, but his editorial prejudging SafeAlex made me understand that it wasn’t merely that he didn’t understand, it was that he didn’t actually care to understand.

As Mayor Roy graciously points out in his column, SafeAlex was actually something that, at his urging, my friend and colleague Daniel Smith and I brought to the table. We’d been working with Mayor Roy on developing the program for over two years before its launch. It wasn’t some hair-brained, fly-by-night idea; by the time SafeAlex was rolled out, it was a thoroughly-vetted and comprehensive strategy that relied on personal input from some of the world’s leading experts. Mayor Roy had sent Daniel and I to a conference on SafeGrowth strategies in New Orleans in 2009, and when we returned with our notes and observations, he immediately and intuitively understood what it could mean for Alexandria. But Mayor Roy wanted to be bold and deliberative. This, we all recognized, was on the cutting-edge of crime prevention, and Alexandria had the opportunity to develop a cutting-edge program.

I don’t expect Paul Carty to ever eat his own words; I can only hope that, in the future, he will recognize something that I’ve known for years: Even if you disagree with his politics, Jacques Roy does his homework. Believe me, it’s something that I often had to learn the hard way.

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I’ve said it before privately: I have no doubt that I spent five years, in little ol’ Alexandria, Louisiana, working for our future Governor. Jacques Roy isn’t in politics to be a politician; I know this first-hand. He’s in politics because he believes in innovative policymaking. Unlike any leader in the Louisiana Republican Party and many in the Louisiana Democratic Party, Jacques Roy believes in competent, effective government. Government in Louisiana isn’t broken because it’s inherently flawed; government is broken because we’re led by people who, as a matter of principle, simply don’t want to fix it, people who’d rather turn over the public fisc to enrich the very few, people who openly admit that they’re incapable of innovation.

While Governor Jindal continues to bankrupt the State, Mayor Roy has spent the last six years building back Alexandria without increasing taxes. While Republicans in Louisiana clamor for the need to eliminate taxes for “job creators,” while shifting the tax burden to the poor and the middle class, under Mayor Roy’s leadership, Alexandria has become one of the best places in the country to find a job and one of the top twenty places in the country to retire, maintaining an unemployment rate that has always been under the national average, even during the height of the recession, and property values that have remained relatively steady, despite the collapse in the housing market. Alexandria has also been repeatedly recognized by National Geographic as one of the country’s top “wilderness towns,” because of its immediate access to exceptional wildlife destinations. During the last six years, there hasn’t been a single elected executive official in Louisiana who can even remotely compete with his track record.

Jacques Roy may not be a household name in Louisiana yet, but trust me on this, soon, he will be.