Looking to calm jitters about a recent spate of violent crimes, New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison and Col. Mike Edmonson, of the Louisiana State Police, assured residents Wednesday that officers will be out in force in New Orleans during New Year’s Eve celebrations and the Sugar Bowl.
During a joint news conference at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street, Harrison said nearly 400 officers will be on patrol in the French Quarter, backed up by 32 state troopers, who will stay in the city through Monday morning. He said every officer in the Police Department will be on duty.
“Every district is fully staffed,” Harrison said. “Every available police car will be on the road.”
The prospect of reinforcements, even for a brief period, is likely to please locals. It’s unclear whether crime has really ticked up appreciably in the French Quarter. Police this week were not immediately able to provide comparable statistics for the area from 2013. But residents have been alarmed by a recent series of beatings and robberies.
One pair of homeowners have been printing and distributing signs around the neighborhood warning people to walk in groups. “We Love NOPD,” the signs read. “We just need more.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu agrees. Asked about the signs this week, the mayor pointed toward the Police Department’s recruitment efforts, which will include an across-the-board 5 percent pay hike in 2015.
Landrieu also won approval from the City Council to start using a special hotel tax to fund a new initiative called “Nola Patrol,” a 50-person squad of unarmed civilians who will help enforce city ordinances in the Quarter. The idea is to free up police officers to focus on violent crime.
Still, Landrieu made it clear he thinks the State Police and the federal government have a responsibility to help safeguard downtown New Orleans, and that he doesn’t feel they are living up to it.
After this summer’s shooting on Bourbon Street, which left one woman dead and nine other people wounded, Landrieu called on Gov. Bobby Jindal to place a permanent contingent of State Police officers in the city. The governor obliged with 50 officers who patrolled the Quarter through November, but state officials said they could not spare the manpower indefinitely.
Edmonson said again Wednesday that he could not put extra troopers in the city year-round, but he took pains to acknowledge the fears that have cropped up recently because of a few particularly brutal crimes.
“It disturbs us, some of the crimes we’re seeing, when individuals are beaten mercilessly and nothing is taken from them,” he said.