We pick up mail for neighbors and water plants when they’re out of town. They keep our extra house key and give us treats during the holidays. It isn’t unusual, it’s just what neighbors do in New Orleans, because we genuinely care for each other. Recognizing and tapping into this strength, two local neighborhood associations decided to tackle the city’s rising crime rate by uniting individuals and their neighborhoods in a grass roots effort to ensure safer communities.
S.O.S. (Safe on Our Streets) was founded by the St. Charles Avenue Association and St. Claude Main Street in 2015. Working to improve public safety in New Orleans’ neighborhoods, S.O.S. has evolved into a network of more than 50 culturally, ethnically and geographically diverse neighborhood and civic organizations with the mission “to unify the voices of New Orleans residents, advocate for best practices in policing and ensure the fair allocation of technology, programs and public resources in order to reduce crime.”
I was initially skeptical reviewing the ambitious but admirable goals of S.O.S. in light of crime trends in New Orleans. The statistics can be depressing: 125 percent increase in carjackings since 2013; 48 percent increase in armed robberies since 2013; and 157 murders in 2017. However, the more I learned about S.O.S. and their strategic, fresh approach to a citywide crime prevention effort, the more excited I became about their potential.
In response to information from surveys and open forum meetings, S.O.S. discovered residents were most concerned with lack of police presence in neighborhoods, community policing strategies and crime technology. Additionally, they found residents yearn for support of fundamental services that help communities improve safety, such as opportunities for youth, economic development and drug and mental health treatment. These findings and work with experts, community leaders and using Best Practices of Metropolitan Police Departments led to platform development focusing on making crime prevention a No. 1 priority of City Hall and the NOPD, upholding the Consent Decree, employing the best crime fighting technology, reinstating and supporting community policing, community improvement and developing multi-parish strategies.
While continuing to inform and pressure City Hall for long-term policy change, S.O.S. also developed an immediate solution at the recommendation of a Department of Justice representative by producing and distributing a Tool Kit for Crime Prevention specific to New Orleans.
“In meetings and discussions, S.O.S. found that many individuals and organizations in the city want to make their neighborhoods safer, they just don’t know how to do so. The Tool Kit gives them the step-by-step process to working with City Hall, other organizations and the media. Residents want to help play a role in community improvement and the Tool Kit is designed to help them in that goal”, says S.O.S. President Jonathan Rhodes.
Each of the book’s 10 chapters was written by a local neighborhood association that successfully implemented the strategy outlined, including streetlights, security districts, blighted property, crime cameras and more. The Tool Kit, printed through donations of the Garden District Association, Mid-City Neighborhood and others, is available at libraries and health and community centers as well as some crime prevention organizations or through downloading off their website.
S.O.S. strives to make the safe streets we hope for a reality by utilizing our greatest strength: New Orleans’ residents who love their city.
A little more …
To learn more about S.O.S. or to make a donation, visit SOSNola.com.