NO.brawl.062118.004 (copy)

A surveillance video fed to the Real-Time Crime Center shows police responding to a brawl near Razoos Bar last June.

Last year, the New Orleans City Council considered and then abandoned a wide-ranging plan that would have required businesses that sell alcohol to install security cameras that would feed into the Real-Time Crime Center, the city's $40 million surveillance system that is shared with state and federal law enforcement, including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

That plan, had it been implemented, would have turned private business cameras into a de facto surveillance system controlled by the city and shared with all sorts of law enforcement. Predictably — and rightly — the proposal drew criticism from many quarters, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor.

Former Mayor Mitch Landrieu supported the plan, as did At-Large Councilwoman Stacy Head. Ultimately, the Landrieu administration asked the council to withdraw the proposal and leave the matter to incoming Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the new City Council.

Now a new version of that ordinance has been proposed by District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer (who represents the French Quarter, the city's premier nightlife district) and District E Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen. The new plan is better in some respects, chiefly because it doesn't require every law-abiding alcoholic beverage outlet (ABO) in town to surveil its patrons and provide the footage to law enforcement. However, Palmer and Nguyen's ordinance would give Cantrell's office and/or the New Orleans Police Department authority to revoke or suspend alcohol licenses if, in the opinion of the city or state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, an ABO "directly endangers the health, safety and welfare of the community."

Palmer's office told Gambit last month the proposed ordinance wasn't meant to crack down on bars, but rather to streamline the sometimes-lengthy process of ABC board hearings. That may be the goal, but this ordinance, like the last one, could force some ABOs to install private security cameras inside and outside the premises — and stream the video into the Real-Time Crime Center.

While the new ordinance focuses on ABOs that the city considers a "nuisance," it still goes too far, in our opinion. Some might argue the city has a right to monitor what goes on in ABOs that flout the law, but it's disturbing that footage could be shared — without probable cause or a warrant — with the FBI, Homeland Security and unspecified "law enforcement partners." That's Big Brother.

The Congress of Day Laborers rallied against the 2018 ordinance, fearing that footage might be shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans spoke out against a provision that would allow people within a half-mile radius of an ABO to file complaints against it. The current radius is 300 feet, which limits complaints to neighbors with legitimate concerns about loitering, littering and noise. Allowing anyone within a half-mile of an ABO to file a complaint is an invitation to abuse of process.

The new ordinance is scheduled to be discussed at a meeting of the council's Governmental Affairs Committee Jan. 31. We hope committee members listen to these concerns. Fighting nuisance ABOs shouldn't require trampling on New Orleanians' rights.