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Thursday, October 16, 2014

City Council delays vote on NOLA Patrol

Posted By on Thu, Oct 16, 2014 at 2:42 PM

click to enlarge Mayor Mitch Landrieu swears in then-interim NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison Aug. 18. Landrieu dropped the interim tag this week. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu swears in then-interim NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison Aug. 18. Landrieu dropped the interim tag this week.

New Orleans City Council could approve the NOLA Patrol quality of life and traffic officers in the French Quarter next month, after council members deferred action on the program at today's City Council meeting. Mayor Mitch Landrieu and city officials announced plans for the non-emergency police force in the French Quarter in August, and its fleet of 50 uniformed, unarmed officers would respond to traffic, sanitation and quality of life issues in the area to free up existing New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers to handle violent crime and other serious offenses.

After comment from several business and residential groups, councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, whose District C covers the French Quarter, asked to defer a vote on the program, part of four ordinances involving French Quarter improvements, including the approval of the creation of the French Quarter Improvement Fund and the distribution of hotel taxes to support the neighborhood's new infrastructure changes.

"The creation of (NOLA Patrol) with this funding … is not a substitute for growing the force size of the NOPD," said deputy mayor and the city's chief administrative officer Andy Kopplin. "We are not substituting that growth."

NOLA Patrol will serve as a "recruitment pipeline" for NOPD, which recent high school and other graduates working full or part time while earning a degree and learning "police culture and practice and procedures," Kopplin said. Starting annual salaries for NOLA Patrol officers begin at $25,000.

Last month, French Quarter groups began planning and hiring paid NOPD details and other security officers. NOLA Patrol would supplement those details. Chris Young with the French Quart Business League (FQBL), however, 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 reconcile hiring these patrol officers to direct traffic. Why isn’t this money being used to hire more officers?"

Bob Simms, who chairs the French Quarter Management District's security task force, agreed that there is a serious crime issue in the French Quarter, but the ordinances' fund creation will help overdue street repairs and lighting issues.

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."

"Small problems become a really big problem when you add them all together," she said, adding that the current lack of enforcement has created an "anything goes environment," which NOLA Patrol would address. 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."

At-Large councilman Jason Williams asked whether NOLA Patrol funding could potentially be used instead to fund a new recruit class. Harrison said the fund only is "designed for what we laid out for NOLA Patrol and those duties."

City Council's move to delay a vote will push the city's timeline for NOLA Patrol's implementation (from recruiting and hiring to training) by two weeks, Kopplin said. The city hoped to have officers on the ground by Mardi Gras 2015.

City Council moved the items to its Nov. 6 agenda.

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