James Gill: Breaking! Cops expose sin in French Quarter _lowres

The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Commissioner Troy Hebert, left, and Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Michael D. Edmonson, right, announce the details of a month long undercover operation named "Operation Trick or Treat" naming five strip clubs as having allegedly been locations of acts of prostitution, illegal drug use, and lewd or improper acts, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, in front of the Louisiana Supreme Court Building in the French Quarter in New Orleans. Hebert says he has suspended the liquor licenses at the five French Quarter strip clubs where undercover agents saw prostitution, drug sales, and lewd or improper acts. (Matthew Hinton/The Advocate via AP)

State Police Col. Mike Edmonson allows that, since resuming French Quarter patrols in March, his officers have seized 125 guns.

That was quite an achievement, given that Louisiana law is probably the gun-friendliest in the country.

Although a permit is required for a concealed weapon, carrying one in plain view is not illegal. The Second Amendment, moreover, is not regarded as sufficient here; the Louisiana Constitution was amended in 2012 to declare the right to bear arms “fundamental” and require “strict scrutiny” by the courts of any legislation designed to regulate it.

That wasn’t in force when several hundred guns were confiscated in New Orleans during the wild and woolly aftermath of Katrina. The NRA raised a ruckus, filing a lawsuit that was settled when the city returned the guns to their owners.

That is unlikely to happen again. State Police are, no doubt, too well-schooled in the constitutional rights of Quarter revellers to go around grabbing guns willy-nilly.

Still, they might have managed to grab even more guns on the streets of the French Quarter if they had not been hanging out for the past month in clubs and bars around Bourbon Street. No, they were not neglecting their duties; they were investigating tips that lewd behavior has been going on there.

Their hard undercover work, in cooperation with agents from the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, certainly paid off. The evidence they gathered suggests that, behind the doors of those clubs and bars, strippers reveal more than the statutory maximum and illicit touching occurs. Hookers ply their trade, and drugs are present.

“This doesn’t surprise me when I look at the locations,” Edmonson said. “A lot of complaints have come from citizens about this type of behavior at those locations, and this certainly gives those some credence going forward.”

Well, perhaps we should be glad that the head of State Police was not taken aback to discover a French Quarter club would be a poor choice for a wholesome family outing. If he had been surprised, he would have been the only one, for sure. New Orleans is, after all, famous from “this type of behavior” from one end of the country to the other; indeed, it is why many denizens of prissy Midwestern burgs, say, like to come here.

The notion that the authorities needed a tipoff to discover vice in the French Quarter may be quite humorous, but ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert adopted a similar line. He said his agents acted on complaints passed on by NOPD sleuths stationed right there in the Quarter.

Cops, who always give their investigations silly names, called this one “Operation Trick or Treat.” At a news conference following its completion, Hebert announced that he has suspended the liquor licenses of five joints, and seven more closures are anticipated. Edmonson said criminal charges are also contemplated.

It was largely thanks to the tourist industry that state troopers returned to the French Quarter. The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau chipped in $2.5 million for overtime, while local hotels and restaurants agreed to accommodate troopers gratis. It is unlikely that the intent was to nail hookers and strippers, when violent crime was what threatened to diminish the Quarter’s appeal.

Cops can hardly be blamed for enforcing the law, but if these raids have any impact on tourism, they are unlikely to boost it. The Quarter’s reputation for sin is money in the bank.

A night out on Bourbon Street will not be a popular choice with locals, however. Edmonson said that, since returning to the Quarter, troopers have made 1,400 arrests, 533 of them for drugs. Given that French Quarter visitors, if they aren’t stoned on drugs, are quite likely to be drunk, seizing all those guns probably did the public a big favor.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.