Research procedure

The AR cycle, in SafeGrowth also termed action-based practice (Hodgkinson & Saville, 2018), provides a roadmap for both a research procedure and a method to apply problem-solving strategies. Action-based practice contains the objective of teaching the participants skills crucial for community capacity building.

The first opportunity to rebuild the neighborhood and tackle crime problems emerged when the residents were approached by the Louisiana chapter of the national non-profit organization, AARP. The AARP had recently expanded its mandate to help provide livable communities for seniors (AARP, 2018) and, in the case of Hollygrove, that meant reducing crime.

Of all the steps and actions the residents undertook throughout the process, one of the most important included collecting data and information continually throughout their project work, a process that helped them generate and then refine strategies to achieve the objective of safety and livability. This is an important iterative element of action-based practice since, due to the natural cycles in city politics, funding and land development policies, not all strategies will have permanent lifespans and may need modification. This was the case with a program called the Hollygrove Market and Farm, described below.

SafeGrowth in Hollygrove followed some research and action steps common for all AR:

1. REFLECTION on current environment by residents and AARP.

Residents and AARP originally met and began to explore the extent of fears in the neighborhood and the perceptions of residents. The initial meetings allowed AARP to identify stakeholders for future planning and the kinds of

Crime and fear in Hollygrove 385 expertise required in the neighborhood. This included a realization there was very little knowledge of crime prevention programming, a crucial skill lacking in Hollygrove.

2. PLANNING initial meetings with neighbors to map out problems and strategies.

AARP and residents worked together to identify strategies to improve livability. However, it became clear that the issues of high crime and fear were well entrenched and generic programs focusing only on quality-of-life, such as walkability and recreation, would not suffice. Thus, an analysis on crime and safety, and training in crime prevention, was critical prior to any programming on livability. A decision was made to implement both community leadership training (the Livable Communities Initiative) and also CPTED training (part of SafeGrowth workshops) as a part of livability programming.

3. ACTION: AARP launches the Livable Communities Initiative.

To initiate the process, from November 2008 to April 2009, AARP partnered with Louisiana State University (LSU) and developed a “Livable Communities Academy”. This comprised a series of short workshops to teach leadership and engage residents. The participants (i.e., “community of practice”) voluntarily participated in these weekly workshops and were later pivotal in leading change in Hollygrove.

Additionally, AARP reached out to one of the authors of this chapter (Saville) requesting CPTED training and they were advised how the social aspects of CPTED, termed Second Generation CPTED, were a crucial part of neighborhood change. The combination of First Generation CPTED, Second Generation CPTED, livability programming, and AR, helped further refine SafeGrowth as a neighborhood planning system.

One positive result from this early work involved problems with official crime reporting. As the AARP began to provide initial programming it became clear under-reporting of crime and distrust of police was a major issue. AARP assembled a Crime and Safety project team with local residents and this led to “hotsheets”, one of the first initiatives to address crime:

... a decades long history of mistrust in the local police kept residents from sharing information. The Crime and Safety project team developed what was called a ‘Safe Drop’ hotsheet that provided an anonymous method for sharing tips. The hotsheets were dropped at every door in the neighborhood with a stamped envelope that the residents could mail directly to their local police precinct or to churches that were participating. Within a month of the hot sheet program, the New Orleans Police Department collected enough evidence to identify an active shooter in the neighborhood and arrest him ... With the arrest of the active shooter, residents said that gunfire in the neighborhood began to drop almost immediately.

(Tudor, 2018, pp. 121-122)

4. ACTION: Technical assistance and crime analysis, prevention and CPTED training.

One preliminary step for providing technical assistance in SafeGrowth/ CPTED during the summer of 2009 was posting a research assistant to directly work with AARP in Hollygrove. This assistant worked on the ground to help analyze crime, and fear of crime, information. That research later produced fear of crime maps within Hollygrove that helped teams more effectively target their efforts onto high fear and crime areas in the neighborhood.

In August of 2009, subsequent planning and training steps commenced in the form of training in First and Second Generation CPTED. The teams later used their skills to identify and tackle most pressing safety concerns and developed plans for improvement.

5. ACTION: Subsequent data collection, site visits and safety audits.

Groups from the CPTED training were tasked with developing a series of field projects to build their capacity to solve crime and fear problems. The strategies they adopted included enhancing the physical environment with clean-ups, better lighting, and dealing with abandoned buildings. The physical changes were combined with social strategies, such as community events and recreational programs, to enhance both territorial control and emphasize collective efficacy.

6. OBSERVATION: On-going observation by residents.

As implementation of various strategies proceeded, the residents’ observations were crucial for informing the implementation process. In traditional crime analysis, researchers need to wait for reported incidents, for written police reports, and then data collection in order to analyze results. That process could easily take weeks, and often months. Of course, that means throughout implementation, if some strategy was ineffective, such as lighting outside a local bar, additional alcohol-related crime would occur and people would continue to be victimized. In the AR method, that is considered an unacceptable wait time and therefore daily site observation by residents, along with AARP staff', was crucial for assessing preliminary results.

7. REFLECTION: Reflection on results by residents and researchers, and subsequent planning and meetings to refine strategies.

As observations were reported to various Hollygrove teams, the participants were able to reflect on the progress of their strategies. For example, in 2009 their recommendation for improved lighting by the city municipality was met with resistance and red tape. After a number of months, when no new lighting appeared on their streets (and a homicide took place at a high crime bar in the neighborhood), residents acted on their own. They obtained support from a local church to pay for a spotlight, installed their spotlight across from the high crime bar, and watched as night-time crime outside the bar subsided. In 2011 they refined their approach and solicited the help of local police and justice officials to raid the bar thereby uncovering an illicit drug operation, allowing them to permanently remove the bar license and close the property.


In Hollygrove, AR proceeds in a cyclical fashion and this was reinforced between first SafeGrowth/CPTED training in August 2009 and a second SafeGrowth/CPTED training in July 2010. Technical assistance was requested for both analysis and for promoting the work to the municipal leadership and, in December 2011, some of the new Hollygrove community leaders presented their results to the larger community. Repeating AR cycles in this way helped promote their successes, such as the Soul Steppers senior’s walking club concept that ended up spreading through neighborhoods across the whole city (see description below).

Data and methods

Data and methods presented in Figure 20.3 show the types of information that were collected and analyzed by the residents and researchers.


From the launch of project work in 2008, AARP conducted an independent survey to identify the extent of the problem since they could not rely on official statistics. They discovered that, as residents returned after the Hurricane, so too had the crime problems. In that year, there were eight murders and 28 shootings, slightly lower than pre-Katrina levels but still catastrophic for a community of fewer than 6,000 residents (Tudor, 2018, p. 122).

Site observations

As the residents became involved in Livability Academy and SafeGrowth training, they were tasked with taking ownership over observing the neighborhood

Data and methods used in Hollygrove

Figure 20.3 Data and methods used in Hollygrove.

Source: Authors.

388 Mateja Mihinjac and Gregory Saville

for safety concerns so they could better understand and tackle the problems. They also developed safe drop hotsheets described above.

Fear ofcrime data

AARP collected fear-of-crime data during their initial surveys of the residents. This approach was then expanded through the use of safety audits and that allowed collection of micro-spatial information. A SafeGrowth research assistant was able to help analyze this information that culminated in a number of crime fear maps such as the one in Figure 20.4.

Crime data

Area-specific homicide data were very difficult to obtain for the Hollygrove neighborhood. There were serious problems with under-reporting (Tudor, 2018), and the New Orleans police did not use geocoding prior to Hurricane Katrina.

Map showing locations of high fear levels

Figure 20.4 Map showing locations of high fear levels.

Source: Authors.

However, one research study (Childs, 2009) did offer some insight regarding homicides in the years immediately preceding the hurricane. From that study we extracted partial homicide data for both New Orleans and Hollygrove for the three-year period prior to the hurricane, from 2002-2004. For 2015-2017 (the three most recent years following the majority of the capacity building work) we referred to the New Orleans Police Department’s public data (City of New Orleans, 2019). With such a limited dataset of small sample sizes we cannot use parametric methods with any confidence to assess the shape of data distribution.

Prior to the hurricane, Hollygrove suffered high crime and it seemed to be getting worse. This is reflected in Table 20.1, showing a 15 percent increase in homicides in Hollygrove compared with a 2 percent increase in the rest of the city. It also suggests that Hollygrove generated a significant homicide hotspot (5 percent of all city homicides), when Hollygrove’s population was only 1.4 percent of the whole city (Plyer, 2016).

We also examined crime and homicide statistics available on the City of New Orleans’ website to observe for homicide trends in the years 2015-2017. We report these finds in the results section in Table 20.1.

Other crime data specific to Hollygrove were also collected through the initial AARP surveys and later through implementation of hotsheets and through the assistance of a SafeGrowth technical expert who also analyzed and graphically represented the data (Figure 20.5).

Informal interviews

Informal interviews with the residents revealed they were fearful of going outside their house for everyday tasks such as walking to complete errands or to use public transport. One of the training participants following the hurricane said, "you can’t be healthy if you’re afraid to go outdoors”, revealing that fear of crime has much wider implications for quality of life. This realization later culminated in one of the first projects—Soul Steppers—a senior’s outdoor walking club.

Informal interviews were also a suitable method for gathering information about the success stories following the completion of SafeGrowth programming. By hearing from the residents either directly or through AARP

Table 20.1 Reported homicides for New Orleans and Hollygrove neighborhood 2002-2004

Reported homicides




% change

New Orleans (Citv)









+ 15


Data extracted from "A New Orleans state of crime: spatio-temporal analysis of shifting homicide patterns in post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans, LA” by L. Childs (2009).

A map showing bus stop-homicide correlates

Figure 20.5 A map showing bus stop-homicide correlates.

Source: Authors.

we were, for example, able to obtain information about the residents’ resistance to the city’s proposed rail development, described below in the results section.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >