By Emily Bell | LSU Student
Crime was the focus of the last debate among the four candidates for mayor/president of Baton Rouge and the parish and each offered a plan to combat it.
Metro Councilman Mike Walker underscored there was a crime "emergency" in East Baton Rouge Parish, noting two homicides per week. "Some people just don't want to believe that." One of Walker's major platforms has been crime.
Businessman Gordon Mese said he is "glad" Walker "decided that we have a crime emergency. I've been living in a crime emergency for 30 years [in mid-city Baton Rouge]."
Walker proposed putting more police officers on the streets, but Mese, current Mayor Kip Holden and real estate broker Steve Myers agreed that more police officers is not the solution.
Mese proposed building relationships with communities so they are more comfortable talking to police.
"We need to quit creating criminals," said Myers, citing the education system, family structure and economics as several factors.
Holden said crime has risen nationally by 17 percent and that while he is not defending crime, "trying to put an officer on every corner is simply not the way." He proposed dealing with poverty, the mental health system and the education system instead.
"We will never be America's next great city if we can't be America's next safe city," insisted Walker.
In response to a recent campaign ad linking Holden to a visit to Baton Rouge by Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan, Walker said that ad was "not about race at all" but to show " bad policy" in using state and city law enforcement officials to escort private citizens.
"We need those police officers on the street," Walker said.
Later, when asked if he would continue the mayor's police detail if elected mayor, Walker said, "Is crime that bad that you have to be protected that much?"
On the topic of education, the four candidates agreed the public school system in East Baton Rouge Parish needs reform.
Mese said Zachary has the top school system in the state, but when nationally "It's not even average."
Holden said many of the blue-ribbon schools in Baton Rouge are in the inner city, but that he has pushed mentoring programs to improve education. He said scores can reveal by the fourth grade which child is likely to end up in jail.
"We actually have to change the way we are teaching," said Mese. "Again, these children are not arriving from families we came from. We have to approach them differently."
The state under Gov. Bobby Jindal began a school voucher program this year whereby students from low-income families and failing schools may receive vouchers to attend private institutions.