Wearing a slate-gray, police-style uniform, the security officer posted outside a Bourbon Street strip club reacted when two men chased a woman toward the door of the business he was guarding on a recent weekend night.
The officer — a former New Orleans policeman who was off-duty from his job at another local law enforcement agency — stopped all three as they reached the doorway of Larry Flynt’s Hustler Barely Legal Club and asked them to explain the situation.
The men told the officer from Harahan-based Pinnacle Security and Investigation Inc. that the woman had picked one of their pockets while on Bourbon. The woman then admitted she’d taken $1,000 from the man’s front pants pocket and gave the money back to him.
Because he had the power to do so, the officer was prepared to arrest the 46-year-old St. Rose woman on a count of simple robbery and turn her over to the New Orleans Police Department. But the pickpocketed man was content to simply get his money back. He and his friend went on their way, so the officer let the woman go after getting everyone’s contact information.
The Pinnacle officer would not have been on Bourbon Street had it not been for the problem many are trying to solve: how to make the French Quarter and surrounding areas safe when the New Orleans Police Department doesn’t have the manpower to get enough cops on the streets.
The NOPD received a boost when it was announced this week that $2.5 million from the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau will help keep an extra 50 to 60 state troopers on patrol in and around the French Quarter through the end of 2015, but that’s a temporary fix.
And so the managers of Barely Legal and two associated clubs on Bourbon Street have hired Pinnacle to provide them with patrol officers who can protect customers, employees and passersby with the same training and powers as members of university and hospital police forces in New Orleans.
Founded by ex-NOPD Detective Chad Perez, Pinnacle — which began operating in 2014 — has more than 20 armed security guards, who are all certified by a Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. Such POST councils across the country certify that law enforcement officers have achieved certain educational requirements.
Pinnacle’s officers also all have special commissions from the NOPD that allow them to make arrests in felonies, misdemeanors or attempted crimes that they witness or that are reported to them by someone they deem credible. In the event they make an arrest, they must notify the NOPD, which will transport the suspects to jail or search them if necessary.
Pinnacle’s special NOPD commissions don’t make them unique. Anyone working in armed security in New Orleans must have such a commission, said Perez, who spent 14 years in the NOPD before leaving in 2012.
However, what makes Pinnacle different from typical armed security companies is that it won’t hire anyone who’s not POST-certified. Perez’s payroll includes moonlighting deputies from the sheriff’s offices of various nearby parishes, federal agents who have been granted permission to work at Pinnacle while off-duty, and former police officers who retired or otherwise left their jobs.
Furthermore, unlike the bosses of some other firms who are afraid to expose themselves to civil liability, Perez encourages all of his officers to intervene in any crimes in progress they may come across.
“We’re saying, ‘If something happens, take action,’ ” he said. “Do something about it. Don’t watch the guy who just snatched the lady’s purse run down the street. Go try to catch him.”
One place sold on Perez’s services is the Walnut Square apartment complex in crime-plagued eastern New Orleans, where a Pinnacle guard making his rounds early on Feb. 27 spotted someone pointing a gun at a man sitting behind the steering wheel of a truck and saying, “Please, please.”
In his report of the incident, the Pinnacle guard said he pulled out his revolver, aimed it at the would-be carjacker and ordered him to lower his gun after identifying himself as a security guard. The gunman fled, and the Pinnacle officer unsuccessfully chased him before calling the NOPD.
“If it wasn’t for (the Pinnacle officer), I know my son (might not) be here today,” said Greta Wharton, 52, whose son was approached by the would-be carjacker while he waited for her to come home from work. “He put his life on the line. He could’ve been taken himself.”
Pinnacle made its way to Bourbon Street after Perez gave a presentation at a French Quarter Management District Security Task Force meeting in October.
After the meeting, Perez spoke with Ann Kesler, the manager of Deja Vu, Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club and Barely Legal. Kesler told him she worried about her employees and guests walking to and from her businesses as the number of armed robberies and other violent crimes in the French Quarter increased last year.
“People know our entertainers and employees are leaving with cash,” she said. “As crime was worse and police got less visible (due to manpower issues), it was more of a concern than it already was.”
Kesler subsequently approached her bosses about hiring Pinnacle officers to handle jobs such as escorting the clubs’ employees and inebriated guests to their cars. The uniformed officers also could be stationed outside the clubs — in the 200 and 400 blocks of Bourbon — to make the presence of armed security in front of those businesses obvious.
“Hopefully, that’ll help the blocks we have them on at least,” Kesler said.
Pinnacle began working for the three clubs the Friday before Mardi Gras, and Perez said his officers already have done their part to make at least part of Bourbon a bit more secure.
Not only did one prevent a $1,000 pickpocket, but that same officer also got involved when he believed two women and a man were going to rob someone withdrawing money from an ATM, according to an internal report provided by Perez.
The Pinnacle guard said he thought the ATM customer was going to be robbed because he saw one of the women gesture to her companions as if she were hitting the customer over the head. The group left the customer alone after the guard approached them and asked what was going on.
NOPD Cmdr. Jeffrey Walls, who’s in charge of the police district including the French Quarter, emphasized that the Pinnacle officers’ powers are the same as those of other armed security guards in the city. But the fact that the company’s employees are POST-certified makes Walls and his colleagues regard them differently from run-of-the-mill bar bouncers.
“We have a good relationship with this group because the majority of them have previous law enforcement experience,” Walls said. “Some of those officers have also been previous NOPD. That’s a benefit for us.”