The State Police plan to keep a beefed-up contingent of troopers in New Orleans even after the Carnival crowds die down next month, seeking to mollify a crime-weary city and buttress its understaffed Police Department through a busy season of conventions and special events.
Responding to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s repeated pleas to the state, Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent, said Wednesday that he would assign additional teams of troopers to New Orleans through mid-May. At that point, he said, officials will reassess the state’s resources and decide whether a longer-term presence is possible.
Scores of State Police troopers traditionally deploy to the city for Mardi Gras, when big crowds pose exceptional challenges for law enforcement. This year will be no different, Edmonson said. He plans to send 150 troopers to the city beginning the weekend before the Feb. 17 holiday, including a plainclothes unit that will focus on narcotics and weapons crimes.
Edmonson did not commit to a specific number of troopers who will remain in New Orleans after that, but he said the number could range from as few as 20 to 50 or more, depending on the need.
The city, he noted, is anticipating record crowds for the French Quarter Festival and Jazz Fest.
“This is probably the most welcome and encouraging news we’ve had in a long time,” said Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re heading into one of the most important and powerful special events in the world.”
Hoping to build on the agency’s successes last summer, when State Police blue became a common sight in the city’s main tourist areas, Edmonson said troopers would focus their efforts where the crowds are but go wherever “crime takes us,” be it the French Quarter or New Orleans East.
“My belief, as superintendent, is that to deter crime, people need to see police officers, so you’ll see a strong element of Louisiana State Police troopers,” Edmonson said after meeting with Police Superintendent Michael Harrison.
Landrieu’s entreaties for more state troopers have underscored the economic importance of Mardi Gras and New Orleans tourism but also the wave of anxiety that has followed high-profile assaults and robberies in the past few weeks.
Just last weekend, a vehicle belonging to Landrieu’s family was stolen from outside his home, only to be recovered by a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy.
“It is imperative that the state of Louisiana continue to provide immediate, additional resources to help protect our residents and visitors,” Landrieu wrote in a recent letter to Jindal.
As recruitment efforts faltered last year, dropping the New Orleans Police Department’s staffing levels to a 36-year low, Landrieu relied upon state troopers to bridge the gap. Two shifts of 100 state troopers worked in the city for four months, beginning in July after a sensational Bourbon Street shooting in late June killed a young nursing student and wounded nine others. Troopers returned in late November to assist with Bayou Classic crowds, while others worked with smaller task forces in the area.
Landrieu’s reliance upon the state, however, has ruffled feathers at times among some within the NOPD.
Capt. Mike Glasser, head of the Police Association of New Orleans, slammed Landrieu in an open letter earlier this month, accusing the mayor of turning his back on the Police Department and “always looking outside, never inside” the NOPD to bolster the city’s public safety.
On Wednesday, Edmonson said the State Police intend to help the NOPD on a number of different fronts, even serving outstanding felony warrants. “We’re going to start knocking on doors,” he said.
The State Police, he added, have “got several things planned over the next three or four weeks, but I’m going to talk about them after they occur because I want them to be successful.”
New Orleans needs an “element of surprise,” Edmonson said, “because you’ve got far too many people that are just running rampant and thinking, ‘Well nothing’s going to happen to me,’ and that’s just not the case.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.