Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to bolster law enforcement in the French Quarter with a new corps of uniformed civilians has divided the neighborhood into familiar factions, with resident groups largely in favor of the idea and Bourbon Street business owners pushing back.
The New Orleans City Council decided Thursday to defer voting on the plan until its next meeting but not before major French Quarter groups got a chance to weigh in on the proposal, dubbed “Nola Patrol.”
The idea is to put 50 unarmed recruits on the streets to enforce traffic, zoning and other rules, freeing up police officers to handle more serious violations and respond to emergencies like the Bourbon Street shooting that rattled the neighborhood this summer.
Chris Young, an attorney for the French Quarter Business League, which represents businesses on and near Bourbon Street, argued the city should use any extra money to hire police officers for the area, not unarmed civilians.
Members of the business league have already decided to spend about $500,000 a year of their own money to hire off-duty police officers for extra patrols.
“There is a crisis in the French Quarter,” Young said. “And if we want to protect the tourism industry there, then why aren’t these funds being used to hire more police officers to work in the Quarter?”
By contrast, groups representing residents in the neighborhood came out in favor of the mayor’s proposal, which also includes money for streetlights and other infrastructure repairs. The residents tend to be more concerned with broader quality-of-life issues — which often puts them at odds with Bourbon Street business owners — and like the idea of more bodies to crack down on lower-level violations.
“Lack of enforcement is creating an atmosphere in the Quarter where anything goes,” said Meg Lousteau, executive director of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates group. “We firmly believe that the creation of Nola Patrols will have a very positive impact on that atmosphere.”
Whatever the case, Landrieu’s administration and the council will have another three weeks to work on the details. Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who had introduced the measure on the mayor’s behalf, chose unexpectedly to defer it until the council’s next meeting.
“Some new questions have been raised, and we need to look further into it,” said Ryan Lee, a spokesman for Ramsey.
Money for the new patrols and other improvements in the French Quarter would come from a voluntary hotel tax the Legislature approved last year. The hotels are already collecting the new levy; City Hall expects revenue of about $1.6 million from it this year and $2.3 million in 2015.
For the plan to go forward, the council must approve an ordinance allowing Landrieu’s office to sign a deal with the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau outlining how tax dollars will flow to the city.
Civilians hired to join the patrols would be on foot or bicycles. They would direct traffic under supervision of NOPD officers and respond to minor traffic accidents and nonemergency calls for service.
Landrieu’s office provided a list of infractions the new patrols could help enforce, including rules against “aggressive” solicitation or panhandling, selling alcohol without a permit and hanging shirts or mannequins from the exterior of buildings.
City officials hope that, in time, the patrols could provide a pipeline for candidates hoping eventually to become full-fledged police officers. Candidates for the patrols would have to be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma and a driver’s license, and pass a Civil Service written exam. Those hired would get about six weeks of training.
Andy Kopplin, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the council’s decision to push back a vote on the plan means the patrols may not be in place by Mardi Gras, as originally planned.