POSTED ON JANUARY 23, 2013:
Mounties to the Rescue?
Police on horseback and other inventive solutions to violence needed
The terrible "quad" killings at East 61st Street and South Peoria Avenue were sickening. The killings were as horrifying, and just as stupefying, as Tulsa's Good Friday triple murders/hate crimes last April. Both episodes appear to have been rampage killing sprees: smaller renditions of the mass murders that visited Newtown, Conn. some weeks ago. The 61st Street killings may have an additional layer of motivation, some sinister dynamics that are yet to be discovered. Ironically, the 61st Street killings and the Good Friday outrages both occurred in a general time marked by very low Tulsa murder rates -- a sign, surely, of good work by TPD Chief Jordan and his crew.
As almost every reader will know, the Newtown event has galvanized the White House. Suddenly, quelling and mitigating gun violence have become a national priority: It's about time. Scholars at the Children's Defense Fund estimate that over a million Americans have died of gun violence since '68: a number that is over three-quarters of U.S. war dead since the dawn of the Republic.
Do Section 8 Renters Spawn Violence?
In the midst a pending sea change to ratchet down gun violence nationally, some analysts have linked the 61st Street killings to federal assisted housing in Tulsa and to negligence on the part of owners of the modest income apartment communities in the area. These analysts have also highlighted what they claim is the interplay between shoddy practices on the part of owners of affordable complexes and a culture of dependency they believe are associated with Section 8 rental voucher programs. It might be useful to know that there is a current U.S. Housing and Urban Development data set that goes to this very question -- the numbers indicates that about 62 percent of Tulsa recipients of recent federal housing assistance vouchers "stay on" for five years or less. Interestingly, this number is much higher than the national average, at a little over 50 percent.
As it happens, a 2011 study, "Memphis Murder Revisited: Do Housing Vouchers Cause Crime?", conducted by scholars at NYU's Wagner School for Public Service, takes a hard-edged look at the purported correlation of housing voucher counts and violent crime: the conclusions from this massive analysis are broadly inconsistent with any real world linkage. This multi-city study, employed sophisticated computer modeling and advanced regression analysis -- state of the art analytics. Interestingly, the study managers did find that many people with federal housing vouchers select units in areas that have elevated crime rates -- the constricted neighborhood choices low income renters often deal with means picking apartments in places with higher crime rates. But this is the sequence -- newcomers aren't causing mayhem, but they sometimes find themselves in the midst of it.
Community Policing & Violence
Why aren't we talking about targeted surveillance -- tight monitoring of a very tiny cadre of people, who live everywhere in town and who have a demonstrable connection to monster crimes? Some call this approach to policing "focused deterrence." One of the most visible advocates for this approach nationally is writer/policing scholar David Kennedy, author of Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America. He chronicles shocking reductions in crime and violence in various U.S. cities that can come from this effort. Here in Tulsa, we have a nationally renowned advocate for some of these strategies in Drew Diamond, former Tulsa police chief, now head of the Jewish Federation in Tulsa.
There is another policing gambit: re-visiting the patrol and cop/citizen engagement in what practitioners and police science people call community policing. There are elements of this approach, in fairness, that TPD Chief Jordan, is already employing -- Jordan is an interesting, sometimes adventurous top cop. But there's a big difference between our still dominant TPD mainline operations and audacious use of the on foot, on bikes, on Segway, on horseback deployments that characterizes community policing. Professionals tell me that community policing has a nearly lyrical, almost retro character that gives police officers visceral insight into the rhythm, the beat of what's normal -- and what's anomalous -- in neighborhoods.
A Real Opportunity
Expanding the range and improving the quality of housing for low-income working Tulsans, young couples without lots of resources, or older people in the twilight of their lives, should surely be close to the heart of a good society.
There is a grand experiment underway in multifamily housing: it was kicked off early last year by N.Y.C. mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg organized a competition to secure an architectural design/development team that could produce "micro apartments" -- 300 square foot apartment spaces. Bloomberg's team received many, many responses. And the entries came not just from the northeastern quadrant of the country or from inventive U.S. firms from the west, but from across the entire planet. There's evidently an enormous interest, some electric excitement about the possibility of using new materials and design concepts, enlighten zoning and subdivision regulations (of the kind, for example, embedded in PlaniTulsa -- our still emerging new comprehensive plan for Tulsa.) and very small unit/amenity-rich common space apartment buildings to lower rental costs.
As readers may know, Tulsa has comparatively cheap housing. There is, however, a shortage of affordable rental housing in some parts of Tulsa: notably in north Tulsa and in some parts of west Tulsa. Stagnating incomes, more rigorous standards for mortgage approval for home loans (post the subprime disaster) and changing preferences on the part of younger couples, empty-nesters, and some older people are driving a renewed interest in Tulsa and elsewhere for novel apartments embedded in amenity rich neighborhoods like the Brady and Blue Dome Districts in Tulsa's downtown.
There is a lot more at stake in the multifamily is "bad" argument than may be apparent: keen observers like futurist/geographer Richard Florida and development consultant/Tulsa aide to our PlaniTulsa effort John Fregonese see high density, multifamily housing for people at every income level playing a much, much heavier role in the U.S. and in Tulsa's future. Walkable, high density, amenity-rich housing in mixed-use projects, with dramatically smaller individual units is almost certain to be a surprisingly large part of T-Town's future.
So the 61st Street killings, repellent as they are, are not cautionary warnings about high density living spaces, workplace housing, federal housing assistance or anything related. But maybe the 61st Street event highlights a real challenge: helping to assure that housing exists in quality and quantity in various parts of town. The mayor has at his disposal an agile tool for exploring, with private developers, new demo projects: the downtown housing development revolving loan fund -- which has been used successfully to create hundreds of new downtown apartment units: the downtown revolving fund is a grand asset -- a model that could be used to do cool affordability projects in town.
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