A burned-out house in the neighborhood around Baton Rouge's McKinley High School underscores the area's blight problems. 

I was just about to write my annual “There is too much violence in the low-income areas of south Louisiana” column when I happened to remember the lyrics of Too Short, one of my favorite rappers from back in the day.

In Too Short’s signature 1990 song “The Ghetto,” he refers to violence, drugs and murder affecting Oakland, California. He bemoaned the fact that the local government was ignoring the calls for help from the violence and illegal drugs saturating his community.

He wrote: “I always tell the truth about things like this. I wonder if the mayor overlooked that list; Instead of adding to the task force send some help. Waiting on him I’d better help myself; Housing Authority and the O.P.D. (Oakland Police Department). All these guns to handle me ... in the ghetto.”

Twenty-eight years later, we’re hearing conversations about getting more police on the streets, adding new technology to help police hear and pinpoint gunshots and high-tech license plate readers.

Not one of these ideas is a long-range solution. It does, though, give politicians and some good-government groups the illusion that they are fighting crime when police presence results in a slight drop in crime numbers.

The Baton Rouge Police Department boasted that after breaking up the Southside Wrecking Crew, crime would go down in troubled old South Baton Rouge. It did, momentarily.

Large police presence, even the fancily named community involvement programs, have no chance of working unless the community feels safe in communicating with law enforcement. Hot dog and jambalaya socials to meet the neighborhood cops are interesting, but what about the other days?

Videos of police officers being overly aggressive with suspects from the poorer communities breaks whatever goodwill is being attempted.

I'm not a criminologist, but I have some observations and ideas. My illiterate grandmother would tell me when I came home from elementary school with a problem I couldn’t solve, “Look at it.” Her comment basically meant, try as hard as you can to figure it out. Just do the best you can.

My hunch is that where there are newer or renovated school buildings with lots of technology, the crime rate is generally lower than in areas where the buildings are older, dilapidated or closed.

Also, where there are grocery stores with fresh fruits, vegetables, a nice selection of fresh meat and poultry, there’s probably not a big crime problem near it.

Neighborhoods where there are businesses that hire over 20 employees, probably have a lower crime rate than other areas.

My guess is that crime is lower in communities where there are church congregations that have actual, hands-on outreach programs for the residents.

And, there has to be a committed effort by the wealthy of a city to get involved in the betterment of the whole city. Those great folks in all those exclusive, sometimes gated communities have to care about the ZIP codes where the highest crime numbers are located.

Their influence and money can force the city government to move with urgency and purpose.

The attitude of “Oh, it’s them” or “I know it’s safe where I live, I don’t have to bother with crime” does nothing for city where they live. They have to come out of their comfort zone because they have so much to give.

Local government must focus clean-up efforts, trash pickup and battle against blight where it is the worst. Crime would diminish if there were more boots on the ground clearing things up — and laws truly devoted to forcing property owners to have their disgraceful properties cleaned.

Edward Pratt: Instead of punishing the McKinley High School vandals, we should educate them on its history

But more importantly, the people who live in the hardest hit communities must participate in the improvement of their own blocks. Nine out of 10 people in those high-crime areas are law-abiding citizens who really want improvement. Like Too Short said: “I’d better help myself.” 

However, all of that is just a tiny part of solving a complex problem. Some of the issues are so insidious that you have to deal with the reality that there is no single solution. Poverty, mental health issues, suspect parenting skills, no jobs and poor schools are a witches' brew for low-income neighborhoods.

I hope that 12 months from now, signs of hope are on the horizon, and we notice slow but steady reduction in crime all over the region, so much so that I break my cycle of “crime and violence is too high” columns.

Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.