A slew of new city-owned surveillance cameras are popping up around New Orleans as officials continue the roll-out of a $40 million security plan announced last year and prepare for dozens of Carnival parades.
Many of the new cameras are lit by blue and red flashing lights, making them more visible than the plain white installations the city has put up over the past year.
That’s an intentional decision, aimed both at assuaging the concerns of neighborhood residents and deterring crime, said New Orleans Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Aaron Miller.
“It lets people know there are public safety resources in the neighborhood,” he said.
The city surveillance system — which is tied into a real-time monitoring center — now has a presence in all eight New Orleans Police Department districts, with locations chosen with input from the commanders in each area, Miller said.
Initially, the security plan called for a total of 200 cameras in 10 “hot spot” neighborhoods, plus additional mobile cameras, at a cost of about $8.5 million. That’s increased to a plan to install about 250 total cameras, with a particular focus on locations in residential neighborhoods.
The first wave of cameras ended up being cheaper to install than expected, allowing for more to be put up under the same budget, Miller said.
For Carnival season, city cameras are also being installed along the Uptown, Mid-City and West Bank parade routes, Miller said. Those cameras may be moved later to other locations, he said.
In total, there will be about 70 cameras watching the 8th District, which includes the French Quarter and Central Business District, and about a dozen locations with cameras along the parade routes, Miller said.
The flashing lights on the new cameras are intended to make sure the devices are visible to residents who have requested cameras in their neighborhoods and also to discourage crime in those areas, Miller said.
The lights haven’t gone smoothly at all locations.
ProjectNOLA, a nonprofit that runs its own network of security cameras, posted on its Facebook page last week that a resident had complained to it about the lights shining into the resident's home, thinking it was a camera the group had installed. Miller said that resident later contacted the city, and, after crews realized the camera was set up facing the wrong direction, the problem was fixed.
The cameras are one element of the overall surveillance plan Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced in early 2017. It also called for requiring any business that serves alcohol to install an exterior camera that can be tied into the city’s monitoring center.
That aspect of the plan, which has been opposed by many bar owners and privacy advocates and prompted skeptical comments from the independent police monitor, has yet to go to the City Council for a vote.
The cameras will be used during the rest of Carnival season in conjunction with other elements of the safety plan, including bollards that have been installed to block vehicles from crashing into crowds on Bourbon Street, mobile barriers that can be set up in other areas of the French Quarter, and devices that can detect chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or explosives, Miller said.
As of now, there are no known specific threats to the city, Miller said. But, in the wake of incidents like the mass shooting in Las Vegas last year, officials with the city, state and federal agencies will be doing a threat assessment, as they have for Carnival in previous years.
“Those incidents have us making sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure public safety is equipped and ready," Miller said.