Mayor Mitch Landrieu and businessman Sidney Torres.
At a press conference in front of the New Orleans Police Department's 8th District Command Center in the French Quarter this afternoon, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, flanked by New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Chief Michael Harrison, a dozen local and state lawmakers and members of the business and tourism community, proposed a quarter-cent tax hike within the boundaries of the French Quarter to keep Louisiana State Troopers in the French Quarter to prevent crime.
Landrieu billed the tax as a sustainable revenue source to pay for a permanent State Police presence in the French Quarter, though it would have to be approved by the New Orleans City Council and voters would decide whether or not to impose the tax in an October 2015 election. With 9 million people visiting the French Quarter each year, Landrieu said a quarter of every cent spent there would total $2 million annually.
The press conference followed a violent weekend in the city's tourism hot spot, which saw a shooting death at Bourbon and Conti streets and an aggravated rape in the 200 block of Bourbon. Other violent crimes included two cases of simple battery in the 500 and 700 blocks of Bourbon Street and a case of aggravated robbery in the 900 block of St. Louis Street. All five crimes took place in the nightlife- and tourist-heavy Upper Quarter.
District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, whose district includes the French Quarter, said that "crime is one of the most difficult issues we've faced" and lauded the proposed revenue source, which she plans to introduce at Thursday's regular council meeting. State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, also praised the effort, as did representatives from the French Quarter Business Association, the Vieux Carre Commission, the French Quarter Business League and other organizations.
Short term, the mayor announced plans to assign a portion of the NOPD's Violent Crime Task Force to the 8th District, and assign reserve officers to the district's blue light patrols. Landrieu also said the department would quicken the Vieux Carre Commission's application for security camera permits in addition to doubling overtime pay for hot spot and community policing.
The New Orleans Convention and Visitor's Bureau and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center have agreed to fund $2.5 million of overtime spend for the state police to patrol the French Quarter through the end of the year. Melvin Rodrigue, CEO of Galatoire's Restaurant and Chairman of the Board of the Convention Center, told Gambit
those officers were installed last week.
The mayor also said that individual businesses and hotels will continue to pay for NOPD details.
In his remarks, Harrison added that 28 new officers will graduate from the NOPD's police academy this summer.
Harrison also thanked local businessman Sidney Torres. Following a television commercial in which Torres criticized the mayor's approach to fighting crime, Torres unveiled an app that lets citizens report crimes right to the NOPD from their smartphones, and has paid for three NOPD detail officers to patrol the quarter out of his own pocket. Torres' company, SDT Productions, has also partnered with the city and the French Quarter Management District to provide a Polaris ATV vehicle patrol of the Quarter.
Landrieu told Gambit
that Torres worked with the city to create the app. When asked if the city had similar technology in the works, Landrieu aide Ryan Berni stepped in and said that the idea had been "floated around."
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) — frequent critics of the Landrieu Administration — quickly responded to the mayor's comments with a press release calling the tax proposal "another insult to NOPD." Donovan Livaccari, an FOP attorney, said in the press release that "Augmenting the NOPD's police presence in only one district at an additional cost to the taxpayers is just bad policy."