Standing in front of a wall of video surveillance feeds, Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Tuesday unveiled the crime monitoring center that is a key component of his $40 million plan to improve public safety in New Orleans.
The high-tech office at 517 N. Rampart St., which was renovated at a cost of about $5 million, is designed to collect feeds from surveillance cameras and automated license plate readers positioned throughout the city.
The Real Time Crime Monitoring Center will be staffed 24 hours a day, officials said.
"If you can hear and you can see what’s going on in real time, and you can communicate it and (respond quickly), then the chances of stopping crime from happening and then apprehending them has increased exponentially," Landrieu said.
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Landrieu announced his public safety improvement plan in January amid a surge of concern about crime in New Orleans, particularly in prime tourist destinations.
Perhaps no incident generated more anxiety than the shooting on Bourbon Street on Nov. 27 of last year that left one man dead and nine people wounded. The famous street was packed with visitors in town for Thanksgiving and the Bayou Classic football game.
Landrieu's announcement that the monitoring center was open came just before the one-year anniversary of the Bourbon Street shooting. Although there is no shortage of surveillance cameras in the French Quarter already, officials hope the crime monitoring center will help prevent such incidents in the future.
As of Tuesday the city has installed 80 surveillance cameras and 32 license-plate readers, according to Landrieu. He said another 250 cameras and 80 license-plate readers will be added in the next several months.
Most of the workload inside the crime monitoring center will be carried by civilian city employees, according to Homeland Security Director Aaron Miller. The Police Department will also assign detectives to the center on a rotating basis.
Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said detectives and city technicians will have access to video analytic technology that can track a color or a figure to find the right frames.
"We are able to minimize the viewing time down to exactly what we are looking for," he said.
City officials said Tuesday that they are planning to expand the center's capacity by allowing private individuals and businesses to contribute their video feeds through a program called SafeCam NOLA. In the past the program allowed people only to register the location of their cameras for the benefit of police detectives.
One major network of video surveillance cameras that will not feed into the city's monitoring center is the one operated by Project NOLA. The nonprofit organization's founder, Bryan Lagarde, said it has access to more than 2,200 cameras throughout the city.
"We would like to work with them, but really, we haven’t been approached," Lagarde said.
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Miller said the city is willing to work with any community group.
The mayor has asked the City Council to pass an ordinance that would require every bar in the city to have a surveillance camera providing a feed to the city command center. How bars that fail to install cameras would be penalized has not been decided.
Landrieu conceded the proposal means residents might appear on a video feed when they visit their favorite watering hole and perhaps have one too many.
"If you’re in the public, you do not have an expectation of privacy, and that’s been black-letter constitutional law for some period of time," he said.
"If you’re out in public, it is highly likely in this day and age you’re going to be filmed by some camera or somebody holding a phone. I just think that’s the new day and age that we’re in, and people should conduct themselves accordingly," he added.
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