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Crackdown in the Quarter


In the space of just two months, Eighth District Capt. Louis Dabdoub has re-configured the way law enforcement patrols and controls the French Quarter. Overall, Dabdoub and his command deserve praise for their quick action. The Eighth has made its officers a real presence in the Quarter -- on foot, on horseback and in plain clothes. Meanwhile, squad cars patrol with windows open, allowing officers to better acquaint themselves with residents, speak with tourists, and generally hear what's going on around them.

In addition to being a residential area, the French Quarter is a historic jewel and financial engine of the city. It should be kept extraordinarily safe and clean for locals and tourists alike. The work that has been done in the Eighth shows what can be accomplished in a short time when a district coordinates its efforts.

During Dabdoub's first five weeks, his district racked up more than 3,100 arrests. He reports a 73 percent reduction in the crime rate since he took over. "If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves," he says.

But arrests are not the solution to every problem. For some "small things," it's worth looking at other approaches. For example:

· Orleans Parish Prison should not be used as a de facto homeless shelter. Its facilities are simply not designed for the homeless, many of whom suffer from mental illness. In many cases, arrests and incarceration exacerbate the problems that homeless people already face.

Several years ago, Unity for the Homeless drew up plans for the Legacy Project, a one-stop permanent shelter with in-house services. Unity only began its work about 10 years ago, but it already has received national recognition for moving people out of homelessness. Yet the Legacy Project fell through because the private and public funding couldn't cover its $7.5 million price tag. Today, with homelessness increasing, New Orleans needs another permanent shelter. Capt. Dabdoub has raised concerns among homeless advocates with his proposal for a "tent city" as an interim solution ("Tents Time for the Homeless?" July 23). The city should instead look at creative ways to raise funds for a homeless shelter such as Legacy Project.

· In recent years, some French Quarter tap-dancers had become too aggressive in their efforts to get tips, and there is no question that curfew and truancy laws should be enforced. But it is an overreaction to run all the tap-dancers out of the Quarter -- especially given the long history of tap in New Orleans, and tap's historical connections to jazz ("Tapped Out," Aug. 6). What's really needed is the enlistment of some of our elder musicians and performers to teach kids the true art of entertaining a crowd. Consider the legacy of the late jazzman Danny Barker, who sparked a revival of brass bands by mentoring young musicians.

It's worth noting that although tap dance is being banned from Quarter streets, the art has enjoyed a Broadway revival. The most talented among local kids should be noticed and encouraged. Before banning the practice entirely, why not limit dancers to certain "zoned" areas where they might be more easily supervised -- and tourists can gather to watch them compete. Similarly, festivals in the Quarter might provide a structured setting for the best of the local tappers.

· The removal of Jackson Square benches should be revisited. One recent Friday night, nearly 200 people gathered in front of the Cabildo to listen to a band featuring Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen and clarinetist Doreen Ketchens. Office workers in suits, cooks in checkered pants, hotel maids in uniform, and tourists from around the world joined to hear some of the city's best music. Yet on this particular Friday, the musicians either stood in the summer heat or leaned on the bright-green trashcan that recently was placed in the middle of the band's longtime performance space.

That trashcan's placement is an embarrassment. The musicians and their audience used to sit on metal benches in the Square -- until the benches were removed for "repairs" earlier this summer. Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson argued that the benches had primarily become beds for the homeless. However, removing the benches inconveniences countless locals and visitors in order to make things difficult for a dozen or so homeless people. Making metal benches "homeless-proof" -- with added armrests in the middle that prevent people from lying down -- is an approach that works on the levee and in other places.

To be sure, the French Quarter is overdue for some attention. New sidewalk-cleaning machines are making it possible to stroll down the streets of the Vieux Carre without holding your nose. We also rejoice at every opening of another live music venue or quality restaurant, nightclub or retail outlet. As the city addresses each problem in the French Quarter, it must do so with an eye to preserving and encouraging those features that make it unique.

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