surveillance smash, Feb 2018 copy for Gambit

Immigrant rights groups and racial justice advocates protested a proposed measure to expand surveillance cameras in February 2018.

Less than a year after a similar measure was dropped, a proposal from members of the New Orleans City Council could potentially require some "nuisance" bars, clubs and liquor stores to install live-streaming video cameras inside and outside their businesses, part of a proposed ordinance that tightens restrictions for businesses that sell alcohol.

The proposed ordinance — which mirrors parts of a scrapped plan from former Mayor Mitch Landrieu — also gives the mayor’s office or New Orleans police superintendent the ability to revoke or suspend an alcohol license, if the city or its Alcoholic Beverage Control Board determines that the business “directly endangers the health, safety and welfare of the community.”

The measure also would lower the threshold for neighborhood complaints against a “nuisance” bar or venue. Five complaints from within a half-mile radius would constitute a “rebuttable presumption that the outlet is a nuisance or is detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the community” before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

That could include violations for “disturbance of the peace” and “lewd, sexually indecent and immoral or improper conduct,” among charges against the city’s strip clubs in the wake of law enforcement raids.

If the state has suspended or revoked a permit or license, the city’s board “shall take the same action,” under the ordinance, which councilmembers hope will curb delays between when charges are levied against a bar to its disciplinary hearings or judgments with the city.

The measure from Councilmembers Kristin Gisleson Palmer and Cyndi Nguyen is similar to legislation proposed by Landrieu’s administration and former At-Large Councilmember Stacy Head — that plan, which also included mandatory surveillance cameras on every business that sells alcohol, ultimately was dropped.

The latest legislation follows pitches from the city’s law department and the state’s Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, according to Andrew Sullivan, chief of staff for Palmer’s District C office, which includes the French Quarter, Marigny, Bywater and Algiers.

The “emergency suspension” element isn’t necessarily meant as a punitive measure but to compel businesses to work with the city rather than languish on ABO board hearing dockets, Sullivan said.

The surveillance requirement in the previous draft met considerable opposition from several community groups, as well as the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor and the American Civil Liberties Union. Mandatory cameras outside roughly 1,500 businesses that sell alcohol would have been added to the city’s Real-Time Crime Center, which opened in late 2017 and monitors streams from city-owned surveillance cameras, which also are shared with state and federal law enforcement.

Landrieu pushed back against criticism and constitutional challenges. “If you're in public, you don't have that expectation of privacy," he said at the center's opening. "People should conduct themselves accordingly."

The clause that would allow the city to mandate cameras inside a bar or venue was later dropped — but it returns in the latest draft.

In the motion from Palmer and Nguyen, the city could potentially require a business to install video surveillance cameras inside and outside the business as part of its judgment from the ABO board. The footage to be archived up to 14 days with the city on its cloud-based storage through the Real-Time Crime Center.

“In city that struggles with public safety, we have to think about what changes are necessary to make sure throughout the city we have the same standard … to have tools to enforce the law,” Sullivan said. The New Orleans Police Department’s 8th District, for example, has relied on the surveillance cameras to make quick arrests, he said, and earlier this month, Cantrell and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison touted the role of the city’s surveillance network in fighting crime.

But Sullivan says the office understands civil liberty concerns from opponents, who fear those measures put residents under a permanent microscope that polices everyday life.

“We want to have those talks and figure out whether this is the best foot forward,” Sullivan said. “If you’re coming in, come in the spirit of solution-oriented thinking — that’s what we’re really trying to do.”

Following the introduction of the previous plan, the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO) warned against the “radical regulatory changes” that expanded citywide surveillance but also “drastically weaken protections for businesses against nuisance complaints,” as “any resident or property owner within a half mile could cause” the loss of a liquor license.

“New Orleans should be doubling down on protections for its residents and investing in addressing the root causes of crime, not opening up new pathways to persecution,” MaCCNO said in a statement in 2017. “Small business owners should be deeply concerned about this ordinance.”

Bars and music venues also can’t be built within 300 feet of a playground, church, public library or school — unless the owner has a sworn affidavit from 75 percent of property owners within a 300 foot radius.

They’d also be forbidden within “residential or park area,” and would grandfather in existing neighborhood bars, unless there’s a six month lapse in their permits and licenses.

MaCCNO also warned that real estate speculators and developers, including short-term rental operators with multiple listings, which proliferated in recent years, could abuse the complaint process to shut down area bars.

“This is an aggressively pro-gentrification ordinance and presents a clear and present danger to every small grocery, pharmacy, bar and music venue in the city,” MaCCNO said.

The proposal follows law enforcement raids of Bourbon Street strip clubs that led to several license suspensions and closures. Those raids were predicated on combating human trafficking, though no trafficking arrests were made; the ATC and NOPD cited “lewd conduct” and prostitution in the clubs, charges that dancers and club advocates say discriminates against club workers, used in tandem with legislative efforts to “clean up” the street.

Dancer and organizer Lyn Archer says the latest proposal will embolden “not in my backyard” property owners to shut down “problem” bars and give state law enforcement “vague and undue power to enter, surveil, cite and shutter bars and clubs” by the city’s reliance on state charges to deny or revoke liquor licenses.

The proposed ordinance pushes “moral legislation to discriminate against and criminalize nightlife workers,” Archer said, and places an “undue burden on existing bars and clubs, especially by forcing an already deeply problematic city surveillance system without needed transparency as to who may watch or use the footage, and for what purpose.”

“It is so deeply disturbing that two women on the city council worked together to draft legislation that hundreds of women have already described as detrimental to their lives and work,” Archer said. “We're still asking for the city to listen when we say, again and again: taking someone's job away is so much more dangerous than allowing us to exist.”

The ordinance will be on the City Council’s Governmental Affairs Committee agenda on Jan. 31.