Op eds

This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.)  first appeared in the The Advocate on August 14, 2023.

Starting a business is one of the riskiest decisions one can make. Entrepreneurs embrace that risk because they love what they do, the people they work with, and the customers they serve.

But today, many Louisiana business owners face risks far beyond their comfort levels. Violent crime has made it untenable for many business owners to keep their doors open. The threat to their employees and customers is just too great.

I’ve been particularly haunted by one quote from a New Orleans business owner who closed one of his stores because he couldn’t stomach the idea that a 16-year-old clerk might “get two in the head” while manning the register. It’s horrifying and heartbreaking.

Louisiana isn’t alone. Crime-related business closures have increased nationwide. This crime wave is ravaging local economies, and Washington’s anti-cop rhetoric and soft-on-crime policies are to blame.

For years, the loon wing of the Democratic Party has worked to tear down the entire law enforcement community. Rather than working for common-sense reforms, these activists called cops “pigs” and urged lawmakers to defund local police departments.

Where these activists failed to defund most police departments, they succeeded in demoralizing all of them. Today, police officer shortages plague communities everywhere. The New Orleans Police Department is on pace to have the fewest officers in 75 years. Baton Rouge, Shreveport, and the Louisiana State Police are facing massive officer shortages, too.

Having fewer officers on the force leaves communities more vulnerable to criminals, and Louisianans know it. Just 32% of Louisianans feel safe. Roughly 1 in 4 Louisianans say they have experienced a violent crime in the past year, a 118% increase from the year before. When people don’t feel safe, they stay home, they quit their jobs, and they close their businesses.

Property crimes weigh down Louisiana businesses substantially. Shoplifting costs Louisiana businesses an estimated $951 million annually. Those costs eventually hit consumers through higher prices during a time when inflation already costs the average Louisiana family an extra $757 every single month.

Many in Washington also embraced soft-on-crime policies that shortened federal prison sentences. I opposed these criminal reforms, including the First Step Act, because I believed it would lead to more families and businesses becoming victims of preventable crimes. Unfortunately, my fears were correct. Eleven percent of convicts released under the First Step Act reoffended — so far.

At the border, cartels exploit our broken catch-and-release policies to flood Louisiana communities with poisonous fentanyl. Yet when I tried to increase prison sentences for fentanyl dealers earlier this year, Senate Democrats blocked my bill, apparently because they hate the idea of keeping poison dealers in prison.

This cocktail of bone-deep, down-to-the-marrow stupid policies has fueled crime nationwide. Now, those who promoted these foolish ideas want Americans to think they’re imagining crime, rather than experiencing it. But the numbers don’t lie, especially in Louisiana.

Armed robberies increased by 50% in New Orleans from 2021 to 2022. Louisiana has the second-highest homicide rate in the nation. New Orleans, Shreveport and Baton Rouge each landed on a list of the top 10 most violent cities in America.

You cannot blame businesses for seeing these statistics, hearing the rhetoric from Washington (and too many local politicians), and concluding that it’s just not worth the risk to stay open. Last year, more than 100 New Orleans businesses and organizations warned that “a vicious cycle of decline” could follow this crime wave if it is not addressed.

If businesses with roots in Louisiana feel it’s not safe to operate, how can we expect outside companies and tourists to invest in our state?

Local businesses are the building blocks of our economy. They are where old friends share a meal, teens buy their first car, and love-struck young people pick out rings for their future spouses. If we let rampant crime suffocate these businesses, the economies and charisma of Louisiana neighborhoods will wither, too.

Crime and the destruction that follows it are not inevitable. With fair policies, well-trained and supported police officers, and leaders dedicated to enforcing the law, we can reduce crime and make Louisiana a safe place to invest. I’ll continue to push lawmakers and officials to embrace policies that protect businesses, our people and their livelihoods.