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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

New Orleans City Council to withdraw surveillance camera ordinance

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 5:38 PM

click to enlarge Opponents of a proposed expansion of surveillance cameras hit camera-shaped pinatas outside City Hall in February. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Opponents of a proposed expansion of surveillance cameras hit camera-shaped pinatas outside City Hall in February.

After months of debate over a requirement for businesses that sell alcohol to install a surveillance camera that streams into a law enforcement monitoring center, the New Orleans City Council is expected to drop the proposal at its March 22 meeting. Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration has requested that the City Council withdraw the ordinance.

The 22-page ordinance came at the request of the Landrieu administration, which proposed a series of changes to how businesses apply for liquor licenses. A few sentences within that proposed ordinance were requirements for alcohol beverage outlets (ABOs) to install a street-facing camera to pipe into a recently opened Real Time Crime Monitoring Center, under the watch of the city's office of Homeland Security and shared with the New Orleans Police Department, FBI and other "law enforcement partners."

"The Landrieu Administration has moved aggressively to tackle violent crime in our neighborhoods," Landrieu's Press Secretary Craig Belden said in a statement to Gambit. "A key part of this effort has been providing the tools and resources law enforcement needs to be more effective. In the last year alone, we have invested in new crime cameras and license plate readers that are already helping the NOPD prevent and solve crimes. The proposed ordinance that expands the number of cameras outside of ABO’s will require more discussion and careful consideration by the next Council and Administration. Therefore, we have requested the Council withdraw this item."
At-Large Councilmember Stacy Head will likely introduce a replacement bill that covers only the issuance of liquor licenses, aiming to streamline them from under the wing of the Finance Department and into the city's OneStop shop program with the Department of Safety and Permits.

Landrieu announced plans for an expanded surveillance plan — including license plate readers and cameras in "hotspots" in neighborhood across the city — in January 2017, as part of a $40 million public safety plan with the state and Convention and Visitors Bureau. City officials unveiled the Real Time Crime Monitoring Center on Rampart Street in November.

The camera proposal was faced with criticism from the Office of the Independent Police Monitor, the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans and the ACLU of Louisiana, among others. At a January 2018 press conference highlighting crime-fighting efforts through the last year, Landrieu repeated his assertion that an expanded surveillance network doesn't infringe on Fourth Amendment protections, and that "people in the city of New Orleans can expect that what they do will be seen."

Community groups, bar and restaurant owners and residents fear a camera network unduly attracts prolonged law enforcement exposure and disproportionately puts vulnerable and lower-income neighborhoods under the lens of Big Brother. Louisiana immigrant advocacy organization Congress of Day Laborers recently rallied against the proposal, which the group fears would share surveillance data of immigrant communities with federal immigration enforcement.

The City Council most recently discussed the measure at its Jan. 10 Governmental Affairs Committee, where District A City Councilwoman Susan Guidry said she hoped to spend the next several weeks on a compromise draft. That day, the Louisiana Restaurant Association issued a memo to its members that LRA leaders had a "productive meeting" with the Landrieu administration to address its concerns.

On March 20, the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board ordered two bars to install cameras that stream into the monitoring center, as part of a consent agreement to keep their liquor licenses.

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