The NOLA Patrol program is well-intentioned but needs further review. At this point, the program seems more appropriate for a quaint seaside community that wants lifeguards rather than for a diverse metropolis that needs crime-fighters. The NOLA Patrol program should be separated from the legislation establishing the French Quarter Improvement Fund, and the funds intended for NOLA Patrol could be spent on dire infrastructure and police needs now. Any final plan should be fundamentally different from the current proposal and focus more on direct, immediate threats to safety and security. Using the funds to bolster the NOPD would be the best use of scarce taxpayer dollars at this time of astronomical crime and crisis.
City employees, like any public servant, must understand and comply with various constitutional and administrative limitations. These legal safeguards are for their own, the city’s, and — most importantly — the public’s protection. When executing their duties and citing businesses, residents or visitors for alleged violations, NOLA Patrol personnel must ensure that their actions do not violate equal protection, due process and a host of other basic principles that apply to our country and even the French Quarter. Relaxed admission and training requirements for the NOLA Patrol are alarming in this regard.
By design, members of the NOLA Patrol would not be qualified to be traditional cops. Many stakeholders of the French Quarter economy come from vulnerable groups that historically have had strained relationships with law enforcement. Sending city employees with only six weeks of training and fewer qualifications than a traditional police officer into a dynamic, diverse and delicate environment like the French Quarter seems like a recipe for disaster. So instead of having them receive less training than normal police officers, shouldn’t NOLA Patrol be required to undergo more training (especially if NOLA Patrol assumes some duties traditionally assigned to the NOPD)? Especially if the city wants to deploy the NOLA Patrol during Mardi Gras for their first assignment (which is the city’s most high-profile and most challenging event).
Considering the recruit profile (i.e. 18-21 years old) for the program, members of NOLA Patrol are barely old enough to dodge the French Quarter’s nighttime curfew for juveniles, let alone enforce it. Particularly at night, some of the most pressing issues in the French Quarter include public urination, vagrants with mental health issues and violent crime. Ironically, NOLA Patrol would not be able to intervene directly in any of those situations. Those scenarios illustrate how the French Quarter is simply not the appropriate environment for unprepared do-gooders.
The “cost-effectiveness” of the NOLA Patrol has been touted as one of the program’s benefits, but this so-called “advantage” comes at a price. First, all members of the public-safety community — from firefighters to police — deserve adequate benefits for protecting and serving the city. There is no substitute for our men and women in blue or for addressing the retention and recruitment problems at the NOPD directly. Secondly, while members of the NOPD face strict and meticulous requirements for paid details and secondary employment, would NOLA Patrol personnel be subject to similar guidelines? If NOLA Patrol is paid less than the NOPD, wouldn’t NOLA Patrol personnel have a greater incentive to seek paid detail or additional employment?
If members of the NOLA Patrol are less experienced and less knowledgeable than traditional law enforcement, shouldn’t there be some safeguards? For example, if someone makes a frivolous complaint to the NOLA Patrol and unnecessarily places a street musician, business or tourist under duress, would there be any consequences for the complainant? The City Council should specify that under no circumstances shall the NOLA Patrol be ordered to meet quotas, minimums or targets in the number of tickets written or the amount of fines assessed. Success of the NOLA Patrol should be measured in terms of how many conflicts are resolved instead of how many citations are issued.
William Khan is a French Quarter resident and entrepreneur.