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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Under City Council plan, citywide surveillance could expand to places that sell alcohol

Posted By on Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 4:15 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY HARRY FODOR

Bars, breweries, music venues, restaurants, corner stores and any of the hundreds of businesses selling booze in New Orleans would be required to install street-facing cameras outside their doors and submit that footage to the city’s new crime camera nerve center, shared with the New Orleans Police Department and state and federal law enforcement, under the current language of a proposed ordinance that could face the New Orleans City Council as early as Dec. 14.

That proposed requirement falls under a section titled “Participation in Community Security Systems” inside a 22-page ordinance that aims to reconfigure how the city handles permits and violations for businesses selling alcohol.

The requirement — introduced by At-Large Councilwoman Stacy Head at the request of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration — would supplement the more than 200 city-owned crime cameras, piped into a recently opened Real Time Crime Monitoring Center on the edge of the French Quarter. Under Head’s ordinance, the city’s cloud-based platform would archive the footage for no less than two weeks.

That one paragraph in a measure ostensibly tied to streamlining permitting for alcohol vendors has sounded an alarm for police watchdogs, community groups, bars and restaurants — and the ACLU of Louisiana, which announced Dec. 13 that it has “condemned” the measure, which “would threaten privacy rights without effectively reducing crime.”
“This ordinance would put the city’s surveillance apparatus on steroids, subjecting New Orleanians to near-constant monitoring of their daily lives and stifling our vibrant public spaces — without meaningfully reducing crime,” ACLU of Louisiana interim executive director Jane Johnson said in a Dec. 13 statement. “This kind of pervasive government surveillance system has been shown to be both ineffective and susceptible to abuse, raising serious constitutional concerns for privacy and undermining trust with the community.”

The ACLU’s concerns echo a letter from the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor, warning the City Council earlier this month that the city’s sweeping surveillance program is ripe for "mismanagement, poor information security, public records law compliance challenges and user abuse."

The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO), among the first groups to scrutinize Landrieu's anti-crime plan and its impact among hospitality workers, fears the ordinance will create “lasting damage to New Orleans culture and communities” — all under the direction of “a term-limited Councilperson, at the request of a lame duck Mayor, and voted on by an outgoing City Council that would largely avoid any political repercussions.”

“New Orleans should be doubling down on protections for its residents and investing in addressing the root causes of crime, not opening up new pathways to persecution,” MaCCNO wrote in a statement this week.

Hospitality workers also have circulated an online petition condemning the city's proposed "surveillance network which would allow the police (and other agencies) to monitor any citizen as they go about their day to day."

Head hasn't committed to language from the bill but when Gambit asked whether Head shares the concerns of other councilmembers and advocacy groups, Head's policy advisor Katie Baudouin said she is "looking forward to hearing more from the administration about how those sections of the ordinance fit in with the overall strategy to reduce crime in New Orleans.”

"In the meantime, she's more concerned about government efficiency and transparency,” Baudouin wrote in an email to Gambit last week.

The bulk of the 22-page bill deals with moving the issuance of alcohol beverage outlet (ABO) permits from the city's Finance Department into the Department of Safety and Permits as part of the city's "one-stop shop" for licensing and permits.

But several other portions of the ordinance have come under fire from its critics. Under the rules of the ordinance, a business that receives five or more written complaints — submitted individually or in petitions — from people living within a half mile of the business would define the business as a “nuisance,” subject to significant penalties from city agencies. MaCCNO fears developers moving into areas could lean on the ordinance rules to effectively push bars and venues out of neighborhoods.

“The rapid rate of speculative development, and particularly the spread of AirBnB, make this system ripe for abuse,” MaCCNO wrote in its statement. “The owners of an AirBnb in Treme have guests complaining about ‘those people’ hanging out outside the corner bar? A few complaints and the bar is in trouble. A developer who’s considering a new condo development in St. Roch, but the owners of the corner store won’t sell their family business? [Five] complaints from a friend in the Marigny could be all it takes to change that. This is an aggressively pro-gentrification ordinance and presents a clear and present danger to every small grocery, pharmacy, bar, and music venue in the city.”

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