Backing off calls he made on the campaign trail last fall for a specific timeline for ending the deployment of State Police in the French Quarter, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he is now considering a more flexible approach.
In a joint news conference with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Edwards said the passage of a sales tax and commitments from the hospitality industry along with plans by the city to increase the size of its police force provided a “framework” to pay for the extended deployment.
“There is not a hard-and-fast timeline. There’s a general agreement in principle,” Edwards said. “We know how long the funding is in place for. (The mayor) has got a plan to hire and train police officers and equip them better and stand up an improved police force.”
The deployment of 32 troopers to the Quarter began a year ago, amid calls for more security from residents and businesses in the wake of several high-profile crimes including the 2014 Bourbon Street shooting.
Since its inception, the effort has been seen as a way to take pressure off a Police Department struggling with staffing shortages by augmenting its patrols in the city’s most visible neighborhood.
“That partnership and that elevated presence with the State Police in New Orleans allows me to make sure we have adequate staffing,” New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison said.
Edwards has not always favored an open-ended commitment to keep troopers in the city. At a forum sponsored by the Louisiana State Troopers Association in August, he called for a firm timeline for ending the arrangement, which he said he would work out with Landrieu after taking office.
The forum took place before Quarter residents approved a quarter-cent sales tax, which, along with contributions from the hospitality industry, will pay for troopers to patrol the district for five years. Previously, money for the troopers had come from the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We cannot continue this elevated presence forever,” Edwards said at the time.
At the same forum, U.S. Sen. David Vitter — who would go on to lose to Edwards in a runoff — called for a more open-ended commitment and suggested the city might need a permanent State Police troop.
With Mardi Gras less than a week away, the State Police presence in New Orleans will continue to grow. About 170 troopers are expected to be in the city by Fat Tuesday, under an arrangement that’s been in place since the 1970s. Troopers not specifically assigned to French Quarter patrols will be paid for by the state under a long-standing agreement with New Orleans in which the city is required only to find them lodging.
After Ash Wednesday, the number of troopers in the city will return to its typical level.
“We now have the opportunity to move forward where we’ll maintain that elevated presence,” Edwards said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.