Several dozen civilians would be trained in some police duties, paid and deployed to the French Quarter and adjacent areas under a plan that Mayor Mitch Landrieu made public Thursday.
The patrol cops — who would be unarmed and have no arrest powers — would assume traffic control and other non-emergency duties to free up sworn New Orleans police officers to focus on more serious crimes, according to a summary prepared by the Mayor’s Office.
Landrieu’s office is calling the plan NOLA Patrol.
“We’d like to fast-track this,” Stephen Perry, president and chief executive officer of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Thursday when asked about the plan. “The response we’re getting from the tourism industry has been very positive. We want to have a cleaner and safer French Quarter for tourists and residents.”
Landrieu has been faced with growing demands for action against crime in the French Quarter, especially since the June 29 shooting spree on Bourbon Street that left one dead and nine injured and an Aug. 13 stabbing near Bourbon that killed a homeless man.
NOLA Patrol would apparently supplement plans by Bourbon Street bars and clubs to pay about $10,000 per week to hire several off-duty cops as part of a wider effort by the French Quarter Management District to get residents and businesses to pay for detail officers in specific areas of the historic neighborhood.
The funds for NOLA Patrol would not come from the cash-strapped city budget but from a special levy that New Orleans hotels began assessing on themselves April 1 to market the city, under a 2013 law passed by the Legislature.
The self-assessment adds 1.75 percent to a hotel bill, with the proceeds going to the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
One-seventh of that assessment, or 0.25 percent of the hotel bill, would go to the city for NOLA Patrol. That money — estimated to be about $2.5 million per year — would be used to hire 50 “ground patrol officers” and pay for 12 new vehicles.
While the city would not provide the money for NOLA Patrol, the City Council would decide how to spend it under a cooperative endeavor agreement that Perry expects the visitors bureau to sign in the next week.
“We think it’s the highest and best use of the funds,” Landrieu adviser Ryan Berni said.
The ground patrol officers would be trained for four to six weeks and then work out of the French Quarter’s 8th District police station, the summary says. In addition to traffic control, they would handle automobile accidents that do not result in injury, plus illegal parking, oversized vehicles, dumping and sanitation problems, illegal vending and illegal taxicab operations.
The patrol officers would have no arrest powers, but they would be authorized to issue court summonses, Berni said. They also would be able to respond to non-emergency calls for service and quality-of-life complaints. Their base pay would be $29,000, less than an NOPD officer makes.
“Allowing (patrol officers) to do work currently being carried out by seasoned NOPD officers (sometimes working on overtime) will replace a relatively high-cost resource with a much more affordable resource,” the mayor’s summary says.
These second-tier officers would wear uniforms and drive marked vehicles “but will be easily differentiated from sworn officers.”
It adds: “Delegating non-emergency policing tasks to civilians is a model successfully deployed in several other major cities, including most prominently in Times Square with NYPD’s Traffic Enforcement Agents.”
State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, who represents the French Quarter, said she doesn’t have enough information yet on the plan but praised Landrieu’s efforts.
“The mayor is trying to think outside of the box when we don’t have enough police on the force,” she said. “Neighbors are concerned. I hear people say they are afraid to go to the French Quarter for dinner. We need for people to feel safe to go there.”
State Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, who also represents the French Quarter, said he, too, needs more information because he thought the hotel self-assessment levy would go to the French Quarter Management District, a state entity. “I have some reservations at this point, but I want to check with my constituents first,” he said.
Some French Quarter business owners also expressed reservations.
Robert Watters, the co-owner of Rick’s Cabaret and chairman of the French Quarter Management District, said his organization wants to ensure that the money from the hotel levy is spent only in the French Quarter.
“That was the intent all along, and that’s why we supported the hospitality assessment,” he said.
Ralph Brennan, a longtime French Quarter restaurateur, said he believes the money from the hotel levy ought to fix broken streetlights that create long stretches of darkness. “It relates to safety,” he said.
Earl Bernhardt, a longtime Bourbon Street club owner, was unaware of the plan but didn’t like what was described to him.
“What we need are cops who can carry guns, have arrest powers and can stop those who strong-arm tourists,” he said. “We need a police presence to deter criminals.”
State Police have temporarily sent 50 officers to the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and Bywater in response to the Bourbon Street shooting. The agency is planning to withdraw them after Labor Day but might be able to keep a smaller presence, said Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman.
The City Council on Thursday approved a resolution endorsing a letter from Landrieu that calls on Gov. Bobby Jindal to permanently assign more state troopers to New Orleans.