Last week, the New Orleans City Council rightly deferred consideration of a controversial proposed ordinance that would require every alcoholic beverage outlet (ABO) in town to install cameras and provide 24-7 live feeds to the city's new Real Time Crime Monitoring Center. Many questions and concerns have arisen about the proposal, which is the brainchild of Mayor Mitch Landrieu. City Councilwoman-at-large Stacy Head introduced the proposed ordinance at Landrieu's request but has made it clear she is open to changes in its provisions.
Many, if not most, bars and restaurants already have security cameras in place and can provide footage to the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) upon request. The proposed ordinance would require them to purchase additional city-approved cameras (at their own expense) as part of their ABO licensure. The proposed ordinance also would move the application, permitting and enforcement of ABOs into the Department of Safety and Permits (from the Department of Finance). The video feeds would be monitored not only by NOPD, but also by various "security partners," including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
The plan raises a number of questions, none of which are answered in the ordinance: Who will be the vendor for the required cameras? How much will they cost? Why is the city significantly expanding the footprint for "nuisance" complaints? (Currently nuisance complaints can be filed by neighbors within 300 feet of an ABO; the ordinance would expand that to a half-mile radius, which seems excessive.)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana, the Louisiana Restaurant Association, the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO), the city's Independent Police Monitor (IPM) and some bar owners have objected to the plan, each for their own reasons. The ACLU worries about privacy. MaCCNO reviewed requirements for ABOs in 50 cities across the country and claims the current plan would make New Orleans the most surveilled city in the nation. The IPM cites "potential for mismanagement" and "poor information security" among the problems.
These are legitimate concerns, which makes it disappointing that a Landrieu spokesman last week said those who object to the ordinance should have to "answer why they're not supporting increasing tools for public safety." We think the onus is on the city to prove that its far-reaching program actually will increase public safety.
If cameras are needed to capture images on the street to be fed nonstop to the Real Time Crime Monitoring Center, they should be paid for by law enforcement, or be optional at ABOs' expense. Moreover, ABOs with existing cameras that meet basic technical specifications should not have to buy new cameras if they want to participate in the program. Also, to avoid charges of sweetheart contracts for politically connected suppliers, the ordinance should allow ABOs to negotiate qualifying purchases from their own vendors.
These are just a few ideas we think would improve the program; surely more will surface. Council members were wise to delay consideration of such a sweeping new program, and they should seek to address everyone's concerns before moving further.