Mayor Kip Holden’s tax plan for May ballot fails at Metro Council _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Members of the East Baton Rouge Metro Council listen to a video presentation by Mayor Kip Holden during discussion concerning Mayor Kip Holden's $335 million tax plan during a Metro Council meeting in January 2015.

A new batch of East Baton Rouge Parish data reveals residents have grown less afraid of becoming crime victims over the past four years, but they still say the city’s pace of progress is too slow and remain disenchanted with government leaders.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation released its annual City Stats data on Thursday, which polled 525 people in the city-parish during two weeks this May. Almost half of respondents said their neighborhoods are improving, while the percentage of people who believe their immediate surroundings are getting worse declined compared with five years ago.

The survey says overall crime in the city is down by 15 percent since 2012, despite violent crime remaining at the same level between 2013 and 2014. But residents’ attitudes about crime have changed over that time period, with fewer people saying they are more concerned about being the victim of a crime than they were the previous year.

In this year’s survey, 45 percent of people said they are “much more” or “somewhat more concerned” about being the victim of crime than they were a year ago. The number of people in that category was 62 percent in 2012.

Edward Shihadeh, an LSU criminology professor, said the public perception of being victimized is better because city and parish officials found ways to lower crime — such as through the BRAVE initiative — and then publicize those reductions.

Murders decreased by 26 percent in the city between 2012 and 2013, Shihadeh said. BRAVE started making strides in pairing law enforcement officers, community leaders and residents to offer alternatives and warnings to those most at risk of committing crimes.

“There was a lot of media coverage because crime declined and because BRAVE was out there doing stuff,” Shihadeh said. “It’s perception.”

Shihadeh said local leaders have put pressure on stopping gang violence, but the city-parish will now have to move forward by addressing other types of violent offenders.

People gave generally favorable reviews for the city’s police and sheriff departments in City Stats survey.

The East Baton Rouge Parish library system and fire departments received top marks when people ranked government services on a scale from “excellent to poor.” BREC parks received generally favorable reviews.

The Department of Public Works, responsible for duties ranging from maintaining the sewer to cutting public grass, received slightly less positive reviews.

But the dead last government service was East Baton Rouge public schools, which received a 2.6 rating on a scale of one to five, with five being “excellent.” Public schools have remained stagnant in their low scores among Baton Rouge residents over the past few years.

Public schools and libraries are two recent examples of controversy where residents of Baton Rouge have gone head to head with their elected leaders.

The failed movement to create the city of St. George in the southern part of the parish stemmed from residents’ dissatisfaction with the city-parish’s public school system. St. George proponents wanted their own school system and pushed for it through a petition drive that ended when they fell short 71 signatures in June.

Some East Baton Rouge Metro Council members also bemoaned that the library system received too much dedicated tax money, and they floated the idea of cutting the library’s tax. The Library Board voted to keep the tax at the same level it has been for the past 20 years and will put that proposal on the ballot this fall, after getting enough support from the council in June.

The LSU Public Policy Research Lab, who conducted the study for BRAF, asked Baton Rouge residents what level of influence they felt ordinary citizens had on city-parish government leaders. For the past two years, 55 percent of those surveyed said they felt like they had little to no influence on their government leaders.

Only 7 percent said they had a high level of influence, and 37 percent said they had a moderate level of influence.

Residents also continued to grow impatient with the pace of progress in the city over the last year. Of those surveyed, 58 percent said the pace of progress and change in Baton Rouge is too slow compared with 53 percent last year and 60 percent in 2011 and 2012.

Baton Rougeans are also warming up to some new ideas, as 64 percent of those surveyed said they were in favor of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Louisiana Legislature legalized medical marijuana with many restrictions this year.

Attitudes are less in favor of legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. This year, 46 percent of people said they support legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. However, 48 percent oppose it.

The people surveyed were asked to identify themselves on a scale of very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal and very liberal. Political ideology has barely changed over the past three years.

This year, 32 percent identified as moderates, 38 percent considered themselves conservative or very conservative and 21 percent said they were liberal or very liberal.

The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percent.