Add this to the patchwork of publicly and privately funded law enforcement on the crime-troubled streets of the French Quarter: off-duty New Orleans cops in ballcaps and souped-up golf carts flashing blue and red lights as they respond to disturbances reported by the public through a new smartphone app.
It all will be paid for, initially at least, by former celebrity trash mogul Sidney Torres IV, whose TV ads bashing Mayor Mitch Landrieu for failing to tackle a crime wave in the city’s historic core sparked closed-door peace talks in January.
The pilot program that Torres is funding to the tune of more than $100,000 — with approval from the Mayor’s Office — will begin next week, according to Bob Simms, chairman of the Security Task Force of the French Quarter Management District, a state-chartered agency.
Simms announced the plan Wednesday, saying the eight-week pilot program will deploy from one to three off-duty NOPD officers per shift, with the larger contingents at night. The cops, assigned by the city’s Office of Police Secondary Employment, will roam three coverage areas in the Quarter, but not Bourbon Street.
A separate plan, long in the works, for off-duty NOPD foot patrols on Bourbon is expected to finally launch early next month and to include other blocks close to Canal Street, Simms said. Those patrols will be funded largely by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and a collective of bars and clubs along the city’s most famous tourist street.
A second phase of the new Torres-funded pilot program would continue the patrols through the end of the year at a cost of about $440,000, Simms said.
“If we show this is really successful, we can get a bigger group of (business) owners together” to fund it, he said. “We have everything in place to do this. There’s no impediment. Let’s get on with it.”
The off-duty cops will ride in Polaris ATVs that Torres has bought. Using the app, French Quarter strollers who see funny business — but not major felonies — can plug in a location and a description that will be sent directly to the cops in the carts.
“This is not a substitute for 911,” Simms said. But if, for instance, someone sees “five gutter punks kicking trash cans over ... it goes straight to the guys on the Polaris.”
The “French Quarter Task Force” app can be downloaded starting next week, Simms said.
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said Landrieu and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison have been in discussions for months with residents and businesses about tackling public safety concerns in the Quarter. He said the mayor is planning to make his own announcement on French Quarter policing within a week.
“We’ll see through the first few weeks and months what works and what doesn’t, and see if it could be spread to other parts of the city,” Gamble said.
The new program is part of an array of measures to boost safety in an area that, like the NOPD as a whole, is down about 30 percent in police manpower from five years ago. Gamble said 110 officers are now assigned to the 8th District, which includes the French Quarter and the Central Business District.
State Police have boosted the uniformed presence in the area since a shoot-out last summer on Bourbon Street killed one and injured nine others. That presence will run through the year, under a plan for the CVB to kick in $2.5 million for 50 to 60 state troopers.
In the meantime, the managers of three clubs on Bourbon have joined forces to hire private, armed security guards, all trained and commissioned to make arrests.
In addition, a city plan to add a civilian patrol to handle traffic and other violations in the Quarter is close, Gamble said. The city will start a training class when it fills 20 of the “Nola Patrol” slots. Gamble said the first patrols could hit the streets by late April.
“The public should look at it as everybody coming together on one issue everybody is concerned about,” he said.
Torres’ mother, Earline Torres, credited her son’s ad campaign for spurring city action, saying, “It’s everybody together.”
Still, she said, Sidney Torres “made very clear he could start up (the ads) again just as fast.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.