Gunmen robbed patrons and the cash register at Patois in August. Similar robberies followed at Atchafalaya and Monkey Hill Bar.
Members of the New Orleans City Council have received several complaints and calls to action to address robberies at two Uptown restaurants and one barroom. The Council pulled together a special Criminal Justice Committee meeting with New Orleans Police Department's (NOPD) top brass to ask why these crimes are happening, and what other resources NOPD needs.
District A City Councilmember Susan Guidry said the robberies and other recent violent crimes are "highly disturbing and have everyone on edge" and there's a sense that "violence is around every corner."
"The rash of robberies in high-profile establishments is not why we’re here today," said Council President Jason Williams Jason Williams. "The issue is they were brazen, they were planned, and the risk of harm to others is so high."
Williams — who said that crime "is threatening the soul of our city" — later called on NOPD chief Michael Harrison: "We need you in short order to close this chapter out."
Harrison, however, said NOPD is hard at work, despite a manpower shortage. He didn't offer details over the progress of the robbery investigations but promised NOPD was working on it "as we speak." The Louisiana Restaurant Association and Crimestoppers also increased the reward for information to the crimes
— which involved masked and hooded gunmen at Atchafalaya, Patois
and Monkey Hill — to $30,000, double, triple or in some cases 12 times the reward offered for information for several murder cases.
District B Councilmember LaToya Cantrell asked for more boots on the ground in the same way the city uses an all-hands approach to Mardi Gras, bringing in officers from other jurisdictions to supplement parade route coverage. "What we're doing isn't good enough," Cantrell said. "Bottom line, we're in a crisis."
Last week, Cantrell said
she was "at a loss," adding, "there is not a single time or place that is safe" in the wake of another restaurant robbery.
Harrison said he'd support more police from other jurisdictions patrolling New Orleans if there were funds for it and no legal issues — officers from other jurisdictions covering Mardi Gras weren't in neighborhoods pursuing criminals. Cantrell also said there need to be officers protecting restaurants.
Cantrell also asked whether NOPD can receive gifts — "a little love we can put out there," including meals and spa days — to incentivize officers and potential hires. "I'll massage some feet for that," she joked. ("I won't touch that," Harrison said, noting that accepting gifts of value is an obvious ethical violation.)
District C Councilmember Nadine Ramsey, who represents the tourist-heavy French Quarter and Marigny, said New Orleans has become used to day-to-day crime, but the city has been rattled by the restaurant robberies — Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Steve Perry told WWL-TV
that the robberies and declining sense of safety is "the worst thing that can happen to us from a brand perspective."
Ramsey pressed Harrison why the city is seeing unusual spikes in certain crimes and whether chatter among NOPD officers revealed any new information. Harrison said typical markers are still in play — poverty, lack of education — but he said criminals are "taking a golden opportunity to put fear into people and victimize people because they think they can get away with it."
"They think they're taking advantage of the police department, but we will catch them and bring them to justice," he said.
Cantrell also asked NOPD to better enforce curfew laws — last month, NOPD arrested a 16 year old in connection with several Uptown armed robberies, and one 17-year-old boy was turned in by his mother and subsequently charged with armed robbery with a firearm and kidnapping.
Harrison said NOPD is making curfew arrests, but admitted that more officers working on curfew checks ultimately takes officers off patrol for more serious crimes — but he said in as many cases as possible, people will be tried as adults.