This is the third part of a three part series.
The further we move away from our short-term response to crime, the more we rely on the community for its prevention. Crime prevention seeks to create an environment of opportunity, so that citizens choose productive alternatives. This could also be called the long-term approach to crime reduction. I’ll start with the role of our first responders, which is to work with citizens to bridge the civil/law enforcement divide. Another bridge we need to focus on in crime prevention is the digital bridge to connect East and West Shreveport. If this bridge is not built quickly, the lack of technology will only breed poor education, which we already need to address by investing in early childhood education. Education and learning must be extended beyond the classroom and the school year to all students, not just those who come from families who can afford it. Ultimately, prevention is the broadest area of attack, so while there are other ideas I’ll mention, the breadth of options and time available make this the best place to snuff out issues. public safety in the bud. By working together in these lines of effort, we can make Shreveport safer.
It’s no secret that decades of excessive and irresponsible policing have created a civil/law enforcement divide in the African American community, so it’s no surprise we can’t mend the damage caused overnight. Hence the importance of coherent and emphatic community policing. The Shreveport Police Department is creating programs like Coffee with a Cop and reinstating the quarterly neighborhood walks I often went on to meet with citizens outside of times of crisis. To close the gap, it is imperative that citizens take advantage of these programs. We need these types of initiatives and commitments to build trust and ultimately turn a 400-person police effort into a 200,000 effort with citizen participation.
Bridging the digital divide is another public safety imperative. Understanding this need, the city created and released a map that captures the digital divide in our city. This allows us to identify these digital deserts and, in partnership with our libraries, push reliable high-speed internet to where it’s needed most. It took ingenuity and the will to do something that had never been done so that we could create a whole life cycle of opportunity. This gives all children access to online tools, minimizing potential word gaps. Tracking technology gaps will allow disadvantaged students to access the same educational tools as their peers, and adults will have more remote learning and employment opportunities, which will further support families.
More than 5,000 children in Caddo Parish are considered chronic truants. During the pandemic, students have had to switch from the classroom to virtual learning and many haven’t even connected to the internet, likely due to a lack of access, so imagine the impact this gap will have. about their learning, their future employment prospects, and the implications for public safety when we support digital inclusion initiatives. Creating a digital gateway will undeniably make us safer.
Educational opportunities are obviously a crime prevention theme, and no focus is more powerful than early childhood education. Research compiled by the Community Foundation of North Louisiana shows that high-quality pre-K programs have significant short- and long-term impacts on children and their communities. In order to achieve universal pre-kindergarten, the city has invested $215,000 alongside the Community Foundation to respond to the state in 2020. We are currently exploring options to provide universal child care to further support families in the cradle to the classroom. Citizens can help by
first lobbying state leaders to mandate and fund universal pre-K. The next step is to push the state to provide more funding for birth to three-year-old child care. This would eliminate the need for our program, so we can shift funding to other areas of support, but it would also provide a stronger foundation for tens of thousands of young people across Louisiana. Investing in early education will better prepare all children for kindergarten, allowing them to start their school journey on a solid footing, as opposed to starting behind which is usually the way to finishing behind or not at all.
Learning, however, goes beyond the classroom. The City of Shreveport has 16 community centers and over $15 million has been spent on capital improvements to community centers, parks and outdoor recreation facilities. Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation (SPAR) offers over 100 different activities for young people in our community, ranging from athletic opportunities to educational and learning opportunities, for an average of 6,000 children per year. Children want to do more than learn in the classroom, which is why we have expanded our summer internship program from 18 to over 150 students. Citizens can help here by supporting the expansion of public initiatives but also by using their resources to sponsor or coach youth sports teams and camps.
Again, crime prevention is the biggest area we can invest in now and has the greatest potential. Students want and are entitled to safe and engaging play environments. It is therefore important that we continue to invest in public facilities for less fortunate young people whose families cannot afford playground equipment in their backyards. Adults also want to have fun outside of education and work, so it’s important that we build a strong middle class to attract private entertainment companies to our city so citizens don’t have to travel to Houston, Dallas, New Orleans or to be idle. We can invest more in the arts and mental health services, or achieve even more liveable paid employment, and we can actually celebrate our economic development victories instead of just pointing out our collective shortcomings. Citizens can encourage fair wages, the growth of the middle class, support public investments in parks and any other highlighted initiative that will protect us in the long term. We have the opportunity to address school absenteeism, early childhood education disparities and the digital divide alongside our stakeholders to move Shreveport forward.