East Baton Rouge leaders have created a system meant to curb human trafficking, prostitution and other illegal activities they say have flourished in some motels and hotels across the parish.
The East Baton Rouge Metro Council on Wednesday passed an ordinance creating a system of permits, registrations and fines that could force hotels or motels that become crime havens to shutter after multiple penalties.
"The goal of this is not to close down hotels and motels," said Will Morris, section chief of the Crime Strategies Unit of the East Baton Rouge District Attorney's Office. "It's to encourage them to be a partner in addressing this significant problem."
Sex trafficking has historically been a problem in Baton Rouge. Just before Christmas last year, police arrested two Arkansas men accused of having driven a 16-year-old girl from Arkansas to Louisiana, posting photos of her on a prostitution website and trafficking her for sex. The men were arrested as they were leaving a motel room on Boardwalk Drive.
"She had been pistol-whipped for not making enough money for these two men, who kidnapped her," Metro Councilman Matt Watson recalled Wednesday as he spoke about the importance of the ordinance. "This hotel was 500 feet from a Chuck E. Cheese."
Two Arkansas men were arrested Thursday for sex trafficking a juvenile after police found them leaving a Baton Rouge area motel where they had…
Also last year, a group of nuns opened a Baton Rouge home for human trafficking victims called Metanoia Manor, which Pope Francis blessed.
Jim Steele, an investigator with the district attorney's office, said Baton Rouge has a group of hotels that have been especially problematic. Those in the Rieger Road area immediately came to mind, he said. And Steele said the DA's office will give special notice to hotels they believe are in trouble, and tell them what they need to do to "get out of the hole."
The Baton Rouge hotels and motels with the highest number of calls for law-enforcement service include Crossland Baton Rouge on Boardwalk Drive off Sherwood Forest Boulevard, Days Inn on Gwenadele Drive off Airline Highway, and Motel 6 on Rieger Road off Siegen Lane, according to a list from the district attorney's office.
Baton Rouge Lodging Association leaders announced their support Wednesday for the effort to curb crime and trafficking at hotels and motels. Ben Blackwell, speaking on behalf of the organization, said "we want to do our part" to curb trafficking, prostitution and drug usage.
Hotels and motels are now required to apply for permits through the city-parish, and the permits can be suspended or revoked if the hotels incur multiple prostitution or drug-related arrests or calls to law enforcement within a short time period.
But the ordinance also encourages hotel and motel staff to report prostitution, drug and other illegal problems happening at their establishments, and if the lodging staffers report the crime, it would not count against their permit.
Hotel owners and operators will have to submit applications with a $100 fee to City Hall's Department of Development that include the name of the business, its address and emergency contact information, the number of rental units, proof of liability insurance or a statement of self-insurance. Each time a hotel or motel changes owners, the owner will be required to apply for a new permit.
Specifically, a permit can be suspended or revoked when it "negatively impacts the health, safety and welfare or its guest" or those who live nearby. The ordinance outlines offenses as when a hotel racks up three or more felony drug-related incidents that result in arrests within 90 days; three or more prostitution-related incidents that result in arrests within 90 days; and five or more "calls for service" to a law enforcement agency for illegal activities on a hotel's property within 30 days.
Hotels and motels must shut down within 72 hours of their permits being revoked. Hotels and motels that break the city-parish's permitting rules will be fined depending on their size. Those with four to 89 rooms can rack up $500 in daily fines, those with 90 to 149 rooms can be fined $750 a day, and those with 150 rooms or more can be fined $1,000 daily.
The DA's office said similar ordinances have been helpful in other cities where they've been passed. Jefferson Parish passed a similar ordinance in 2014, which Baton Rouge officials said they used to help craft theirs.
The new ordinance also allows Baton Rouge hotels and motels to accept other forms of identification from people checking in aside from government IDs. People can provide credit cards and contracted guest lists from outside businesses as well.
"This also serves as notice to individuals who want to come in our city and bring their bad habit to our city and affect our vulnerable citizens," said Metro Councilwoman Erika Green, who helped lead the effort to pass the ordinance. "We're not having it in Baton Rouge."
She said the timing is perfect: January is human trafficking awareness month.
Pope Francis' vision of mercy for victims of human trafficking came to life in East Baton Rouge Parish Wednesday morning as a new home, the Me…
Editor's note: This article was changed on Jan. 25, 2018, to note that Will Morris was the representative of the East Baton Rouge District Attorney's Office who spoke to the Metro Council.