A Bourbon Street club owner, Tony Stafford, has it exactly right: ''We have 13 million visitors to this city every year, and most come through here. This is our gold mine. It needs to be protected.''
He was talking about the French Quarter and however many other attractions there are in the greater New Orleans area. It is not only Stafford’s gold mine, but that of an entire region where tourism is of profound economic importance.
That’s why the Quarter’s recent increase in crime, although it is down in much of the city according to official statistics, is an outsized problem for New Orleans and its region, not just those who are crime victims.
In 2018, violent crime in the French Quarter rose 16.25%, with 186 homicides, aggravated assaults and batteries and robberies, a rate of more than two incidents per square block. There have been 93 violent crimes in the Quarter so far this year, about the same number as a comparable period last year. The number of crimes is 31% higher than the same period in 2017 – although the good news is that the previous year’s statistics were lower than in 2016.
For someone like Stafford, who argued to The Times-Picayune | The Advocate that a cop on every corner ought to be on the agenda, officials point to the multiple agencies like Louisiana State Police that aid NOPD officers on the downtown beats.
Unfortunately, the combination of young men, party venues and handguns is a volatile mix anywhere.
In response to the previous surge in high-profile shootings, like the 10-victim incident in 2016, not only more officers but more surveillance cameras were a response from City Hall.
ACLU of Louisiana staff attorney Bruce Hamilton remains concerned that, along with boosting the chances of solving crime, the oversaturation of both cameras and officers has increased ''the potential for civil rights abuses and the potential to criminalize innocent behavior.'' We believe that this concern is misplaced, at least so far, because solving crimes — the French Quarter district is better at that than the rest of the city — is ultimately a key deterrent.
Councilwoman Kristin Giselson Palmer, who represents the district, said that $8.7 million is spent annually in the Quarter on public safety on top of the police budget for the district, with the extra money spent on policing the entire west bank of the city.
For the tough job of policing, obviously, a line between police districts or historic areas means little, because the criminal element isn’t paying attention to jurisdictions.
Criminals are going where the money is. Addressing their threat is vital to the city as a whole, not just the Quarter businesses themselves. That means solving the crime problem on Bourbon but also all around it.