Sidney Torres IV is back in the French Quarter crime-fighting game, though it cost him another $100,000 to rejoin the team.
Torres, the former French Quarter garbage mogul, said Thursday that he has ponied up to buy three new Smart cars and revamp a mobile app system for the off-duty police patrols that he bankrolled more than a year ago after publicly hammering Mayor Mitch Landrieu over crime in the city’s most historic district.
Torres, who has publicly flirted with a run for mayor, appeared in front of the 8th District police station on Royal Street to show off the new cars, whose bodies have been lifted 6 inches to make their way around Jackson Square and other tricky French Quarter terrain.
They will replace the beaten-up Polaris carts Torres bought last year when he launched the French Quarter Task Force, a squad of off-duty police officers hired to respond quickly to complaints and crimes reported mostly by residents.
Thursday’s announcement appeared to signal a detente after a dispute that left Torres on the outs with the task force last year, when the tourism industry and taxpayers took over funding his brainchild. By then, Torres had spent more than $300,000 on the task force and technology, he said.
He sparred with Bob Simms, of the French Quarter Management District, who helped create the task force with Torres but later endorsed a move to limit the wealthy businessman’s access to officers’ whereabouts.
Simms said Torres was keeping tabs on the hired cops from his home on Esplanade Avenue, pestering them about taking too many breaks and tracking them down for film crews.
With approval from the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, which now funds the task force, Simms last fall replaced the GPS on the Polaris vehicles. That left Torres unable to track the majority of calls handled by the task force officers.
Torres complained at the time that his effort for accountability had been co-opted, leaving him unable to root out lazy cops.
The updated mobile app will keep track of the task force officers from the time they check in for their shifts, Torres said, rather than tracking only their progress on calls residents make through the app.
That means Torres can again monitor the detail officers anytime, though he pledged to keep his interference to a minimum.
“I’ll try not to,” he said Thursday. “Obviously, I will call Bob when I see someone sitting around, and hopefully he’ll deal with it.”
Among other improvements, Torres said, will be a new high-tech “war room” where the Smart cars can be monitored in real time on big screens, day and night.
The app also will allow residents — 20,000 of whom have downloaded it, Torres said — to more easily report crimes or suspicions without having to enter their location.
He said he got the idea for the central command room from the trailer for a new TV show under development by Fox that is itself a fictional account of Torres and his task force.
“We saw the promotion to that, and we’re like, ‘Wait, that would be cool for us to put this kind of war room at the 8th District station,’ ” he said. “It allows us to see real-time travel, what they’re doing, where they’re going. It’s a great tool to have for transparency and accountability.”
Torres said the app, which he owns, has drawn interest from private security districts in St. Louis; Memphis, Tennessee; and Chicago, and that he’s also met with the Mid-City and Lakeview security districts in New Orleans.
Freddie Yoder, president of the Lakeview Crime Prevention District, said he met with Torres recently but turned down an offer to license the app. Yoder said he didn’t see the app’s value for Lakeview, where the territory is much bigger than the French Quarter and pedestrian traffic is minimal, except on Harrison Avenue.
“We have cars that are already available. You don’t need to dial an app. All you need to do is dial 911,” Yoder said. “We just didn’t see how the app applied or could be used efficiently under the circumstances we have here in Lakeview.”
The first of the Smart cars hit the streets of the French Quarter on Thursday, Torres said, adding that he will air several TV spots over the next few weeks touting “Task Force 2.0,” which can be downloaded at fqtaskforce.com.
Torres touted swift response times for the off-duty patrols, saying they rarely exceed eight minutes. He said the city also has agreed to fund an additional daytime officer for the patrols.
Standing together, Torres and Simms encouraged French Quarter residents and visitors to report crimes or suspicious incidents directly to the off-duty officers through the app.
“Everybody knows Bob and I were at war for a little while,” Torres said.
“Not anymore,” Simms responded.
“We’ve learned how to work together and put all the disagreements we had into the app,” said Torres, who credited Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni with brokering the truce. “We both apologized to each other and gave each other a big hug because our whole goal is to make the French Quarter safe.”
Berni said the new agreement keeps administration of the app out of Torres’ hands.
“One of the things that was important to us is, because of the personalities involved, that it be sustainable long term and that the administration of the app and the detail work together,” Berni said.
“We’re very grateful to Sidney for donating the vehicles, but to me, the focus has to be on fighting crime, and the commitment long term is to the crime fighting, not the marketing and PR.”
He said an additional officer would be added to the patrols specifically to do the kind of traffic enforcement that the administration’s aborted NOLA Patrol program could not, thanks to legal limitations on that citizen program.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.