The New Orleans City Council last week deferred action on the proposed NOLA Patrol quality of life and traffic officers that Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants to assign to the French Quarter. Landrieu and city officials announced plans for the Quarter-focused, non-emergency police force in August.
If approved by the council, the fleet of 50 uniformed, unarmed officers would respond to traffic, sanitation and quality of life issues in the Vieux Carre, theoretically freeing up existing New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers to handle more serious offenses.
NOLA Patrol will serve as a "recruitment pipeline" for NOPD by allowing recent high school graduates to work full or part time while earning a college degree and learning "police culture and practice and procedures," said Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin. Starting annual salaries for NOLA Patrol officers begin at $25,000.
Last month, French Quarter groups began hiring paid NOPD details and other security officers. NOLA Patrol would supplement those details. However, Chris Young of the French Quarter Business League (FQBL) said money deferred to a patrol program could be better spent on actual NOPD officers, which now have been paid for by businesses and residents. "There is a crisis in the French Quarter. People are being attacked, robbed, every night," Young said. "It's hard for (the FQBL) to recwoncile hiring these patrol officers to direct traffic. Why isn't this money being used to hire more officers?"
Meg Lousteau, director of Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates (VCPORA), said while she certainly "understands concerns about police," the French Quarter suffers from a lack of enforcement on quality of life, sanitation and zoning issues, from "mule droppings" and T-shirt shops to "restaurants functioning as bars." Lousteau also said the presence of additional uniformed officers will have a deterrent effect, "much like a scarecrow does in a field."
Newly named NOPD Chief Michael Harrison agreed that the patrol will create a "visibility effect," but "we still want to hire police officers," he said. "This frees us up to do that."
Councilman At-Large Jason Williams asked whether NOLA Patrol funding could potentially be used instead to fund a new recruit class. Harrison said the fund is "designed for what we laid out for NOLA Patrol and those duties."
The council's move to delay a vote will push back the city's timeline for NOLA Patrol's implementation (from recruiting and hiring to training) by two weeks, Kopplin said. The administration had hoped to have officers on the ground by Mardi Gras 2015.
— ALEX WOODWARD