BRAC IN THE NEWS
Survey probes Baton Rouge residents
June 12, 2012
More than four in 10 East Baton Rouge Parish residents do not feel safe walking alone in their neighborhoods at night, according to the latest survey by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation on quality of life issues in Louisiana’s capital city.
The 43 percent of respondents were 10 percent more than last year but only one percent more than two years ago, according to the Foundation’s fourth annual CityStats report. The report details results of a survey of more than 70 indicators about East Baton Rouge’s economy, infrastructure, education, arts and more, BRAF spokesman Mukul Verma said in a news release.
Among black respondents, 57 percent said they did not feel safe walking alone in their neighborhoods at night, according to the report. In addition, 37 percent of all respondents said they were “much more concerned” that they or a family member will be a victim of crime, up from 28 percent three years ago.
“Everybody’s perception is truly their reality,” Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White said. “It is of great concern to the Baton Rouge Police Department to make the streets safer.”
The murder rate contributes to the perception, White said.
“That’s someone’s greatest fear,” he said.
Another 31 percent of those surveyed said lowering crime was the most important thing the government could do to improve the quality of life in their neighborhood, the report states.
“It’s an emergency situation,” Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker said. “People are fearful and they want something done about it now.”
Mayor-President Kip Holden released a statement when asked for comment about the report.
“We have initiated a number of measures to deal with crime in Baton Rouge since this survey was taken, including a truancy center, the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project and increased interaction with the community,” Holden’s statement said. “I would ask people to reserve judgment until they see if these efforts are successful in bringing crime down.”
Respondents were asked to rate the city Police Department and Sheriff’s Office on a 5-point scale where five is excellent and one is poor. The agencies received a combined rating of 3.4, up from 3.1 in 2010, but down from 3.8 in 2009.
The report did not ask respondents to rate individual agencies.
“We gauge ourselves by the feedback we get from the public,” East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said. “I know there’s areas where people are not satisfied with their service.”
One-third of respondents said improving education is the most important thing the government could do to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods, and 36 percent said the best way to improve education would be to create more independent public school districts. Just one percent fewer — 35 percent — said strengthening public schools was the best way to improve education.
A bill to create East Baton Rouge’s fifth public school district, the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School System, was defeated in the Louisiana House of Representatives on June 1.
Survey participants were also asked what level of influence they felt ordinary citizens have on leaders in city-parish government.”
Fifty-five percent said they felt they had “little or no influence,” up from 49 percent last year.
Six in 10 respondents said that the pace of progress in East Baton Rouge was too slow, similar to the 61 percent who answered yes to the same question last year.
Culturally, attendance at East Baton Rouge’s attractions, such as the Louisiana Art and Science Museum, the USS Kidd, the LSU Museum of Art, BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo and the Manship Theatre, dipped 4 percent over the past five years: from 572,855 visitors in 2007 to 549,902 in 2011.
In the second year of the question being asked, opposition to gay marriage dipped 1 percent, to 49.
Residents also expressed a reluctance to pay for infrastructure improvements: 75 percent said no to more gas taxes for road work; 56 percent said they didn’t want to pay highway tolls at the parish lines, the report says.
Conversely, 63 percent of residents approved of widening Interstate 10 at the Perkins Road Overpass, even if means restaurants and shops would be closed, according to the report.
A majority — 64 percent — were for spending less on widening roads and more on alternative transportation like bicycle paths, buses and trains, the report says.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation commissions the annual survey, which is underwritten by the Newton B. Thomas Support Foundation, a supporting nonprofit agency of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Research for the project is conducted under a contract with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, which runs the survey.
The poll’s sample size was 537 respondents, according to the report. The report says that the sample is representative of East Baton Rouge Parish but did not provide a detailed demographic breakdown of respondents.
The margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percent. The poll was conducted by telephone in February 2012, with 430 of the calls made to land lines and 107 to cell phones.
According to the report, BRAF uses the findings to assist in decision making about grants and to choose civic leadership initiatives.
The full report is available at http://www.braf.org under “Projects.”