Would you spend an extra quarter-cent on every dollar purchase you make in the French Quarter if the result were greater public safety? Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Superintendent Michael Harrison and members of the French Quarter business community are all in on the concept. It's all going to come down to French Quarter residents, who likely will be asked to go to the polls this fall to raise the sales tax in their neighborhood.
Late last month, the New Orleans City Council put the plan in motion by passing resolutions introduced by District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, whose district includes the Quarter. The resolutions would begin the process of creating a special Economic Development District bounded by Canal Street, Esplanade Avenue, N. Rampart Street and the Mississippi River. The appeal of such a plan, according to city leaders, is that tourists would absorb most of the costs, which Landrieu's office estimates would bring in $2 million a year.
That $2 million would be matched with $1 million from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and another $1 million from the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation and the French Quarter Improvement Fund. The goal would be to create a contingent of 45 full-time Louisiana State Police troopers to patrol the Quarter.
Not surprisingly, New Orleans police unions slammed the idea, with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) calling it "another insult to NOPD," while FOP attorney Donovan Livaccari said, "Augmenting the NOPD's police presence in only one district at an additional cost to the taxpayers is just bad policy."
Whatever the city's doing now, it's not working and it hasn't worked for a long time.
The unions have a point, but no one with the power to do something about crime in the Vieux Carre has come up with a better idea — or the mechanism to fund it. The weekend before the plan was presented, the tourist-heavy Upper Quarter saw one shooting death, one aggravated rape, two cases of battery and an armed robbery. Whatever the city's doing now, it's not working and it hasn't worked for a long time.
If voters approve the plan, the French Quarter will be protected by several entities — NOPD officers, Louisiana State Police, detail cops hired by local businesses, the "NOLA Patrol" (unarmed civilian deputies that Harrison has told Gambit could hit the streets this month) and more off-duty cops whose eight-week employment (past Jazz Fest) is being paid for by businessman Sidney Torres. Torres also has donated all-terrain vehicles for the off-duty cops to use and funded the development of a smartphone app that allows anyone to quickly report a crime or trouble in progress.
It's an oddly patchwork approach, but given current staffing levels at NOPD, it may be the only option right now. The Vieux Carre Commission is on board, as are the French Quarter Business Association and the French Quarter Business League.
The public is invited to weigh in on the plan at the council meeting April 23. If the Economic Development District is created — and there's no reason to believe it won't be, given the current levels of support — the push will begin to convince French Quarter voters to join the chorus in the fall.