Suddenly, there is an abundance of ideas on how to beef up police presence in the French Quarter.
Businesses are getting ready for the launch of an off-duty police detail dedicated to the first seven blocks of Bourbon Street. Meanwhile, the New Orleans City Council is moving forward with plans to use a quarter -cent sales tax hike throughout the Vieux Carre to pay for more officers throughout the district.
And even as those proposals are taking shape, bar owners are putting together plans for another sales tax that would provide long-term funding for a police detail dedicated to the first few blocks of Bourbon.
The proposals all are part of a complex patchwork of financing and staffing aimed at creating a long-term solution to the lack of officers on the streets of the city’s premier tourist district by using a combination of Louisiana State Police, off-duty NOPD officers and civilian patrols. The plans, unveiled last month, grew out of discussions involving Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, trash magnate Sidney Torres and French Quarter groups.
Details of the Bourbon Street patrol will be announced next week, though it could take some time for the additional officers to begin working the beat between Canal Street and St. Ann Street. Those officers will be paid for by the French Quarter Business League, a group of bars and restaurants.
The league will kick in about $41,000 a month for the details, with the city matching some of that funding, said Alex Fein, president of the group.
That comes as the city is moving forward with its “Quarter for the Quarter” campaign, which will create a new economic development district covering the whole French Quarter and overseen by the City Council.
The council unanimously approved the creation of that district Thursday, one of the preliminary steps needed to impose the sales tax. The district will be bounded by Canal Street, North Rampart Street, Esplanade Avenue and the river. The council will have to take up additional ordinances later this year before the quarter -cent tax can be put on the ballot and agreements with State Police can be finalized.
“This ensures that plan remains in place and is paid for primarily through visitors to New Orleans, as opposed to the residents and businesses of the French Quarter,” Landrieu aide Ryan Berni told the council Thursday.
Once all that’s in place, the tax is expected to go to a vote of French Quarter residents on Oct. 24.
The sales tax is expected to bring in about $2 million a year. Hospitality groups would kick in an additional $2 million, and the city would pay $500,000 toward the effort.
All those funds would be combined to finance a long-term presence in the Quarter of state troopers and the NOLA Patrol, a new group of civilians who could handle minor duties related to French Quarter crowds to free up police to deal with serious crimes. All of those efforts would be on top of the existing police staffing in the Quarter and would not take resources away from other areas, officials say.
Torres has funded patrols of off-duty officers on Polaris utility vehicles in conjunction with an app that can be used to report incidents in the Quarter.
In a new wrinkle in the plans, the French Quarter Business League is now floating the idea of a second economic development district with its own sales tax that would cover only Bourbon Street and would provide a long-term funding stream for off-duty police details on top of the other planned initiatives. The goal is to have a total of 16 officers working the Bourbon Street beat, enough to create a visible police presence that could deter crime and give visitors and residents a sense of security in the area, Fein said.
“The economic development districts are a way to ensure that everybody shares in the cost of those details,” he said. “Right now, the 15 businesses in our group are putting up the money.”
A Bourbon-specific tax had been discussed as businesses met with administration officials, but it was originally considered a backup should the Quarterwide sales tax fail. The details of the plan are still being hashed out among the members of the Business League and would need approval from the City Council before it could be implemented.
For now, Fein said, the focus is on the Quarterwide tax.
“The Quarter for the Quarter is the forefront at the moment,” he said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.