Not so Big Easy: New Orleans steps up surveillance ahead of Mardi Gras

Not so Big Easy: New Orleans steps up surveillance ahead of Mardi Gras
New Orleans bar owners are pushing back against the mayor’s $40 million security plan to fight rising crime calling it 'antithetical to the spirit of the city.' The plan includes extra lighting, 24/7 surveillance cameras and bar curfews.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposed the citywide public safety strategy last month. Safety barriers were installed this week near Bourbon Street just ahead of Mardi Gras, when crowds are expected to flood the French Quarter. The barriers are meant to stop someone from driving a vehicle onto Bourbon Street and killing people, which is what happened in Nice, France, last year, and in Berlin, Germany in December. 

“We’re going to have more police officers, more boots on the ground. We’ll have guys in tactical gear much like they do in every major city now because of the potential terrorism threat,” Landrieu said, according to CBS.

Among the plan’s proposal are that bars would submit to 200 24/7 surveillance cameras, monitored from a central command station, adopt a curfew at 3:00am by keeping patrons inside the bar to prevent them from hanging out in the streets, and police would conduct “sweeps” to clear the streets after that time. The plan would target Bourbon Street and 20 other "hot spots."

The Mayor’s move follows a deadly shooting over Thanksgiving weekend last year which left one dead and nine injured on Bourbon Street. The city also saw 60 murders in the third quarter of 2016, representing a 54 percent jump from the same period the year before.

City administrators this week explained the “sweeps” will be limited to cleaning the French Quarter, with police overseeing the cleaning but not moving people off the street.

Some of the proposals would require the City Council to amend existing rules for alcoholic beverage outlets such as installing outward facing surveillance cameras and the curfew.

At the end of last month, 20 business owners wrote to the City Council with a list of concerns about the mayor’s proposal, arguing the proposal would make the city less safe, that most crime occurs earlier in the evening, and the proposals would cost businesses money and loss of patrons. The letter backed up its claims by including footnotes to news stories and crime research.

“We recognize that public safety is a major concern for most residents and visitors, but we feel the proposed measures are likely to be counterproductive and are antithetical to the free spirit of the city,”wrote T. Cole Newton, owner of Twelve Mile Limit, in the letter signed by 19 other business owners, according to the New Orleans Times Picayune.

Newton said shutting the doors at 3:00am “feels more like a backdoor noise ordinance than a genuine public safety proposal.”

To date, the mayor’s office has not submitted any ordinances to the council for consideration.