The second Security Task Force meeting didn’t help. It looks like the mayor is cold-shouldering FQMD and its Security Task Force on the subject of security in the French Quarter. Makes you wonder, no? Pushing a French Quarter “security” plan without consulting with the organization that worked for years on understanding the problem and making some painstaking, unfunded headway, then finally, cooperating with Sidney Torres, did make a difference. That can’t be an oversight.
Maybe Bob Simms and the committee members know too much about real security and policing, so might have burst out laughing at the pastel tinted, deodorized BS the mayor’s side of City Hall has been slathering over its “Plan” and the grab bag of stuff they are selling us under the banner “Security.”
I wondered if the reticence might be to avoid giving any credit publicly to Sidney Torres’s design for the French Quarter’s special police patrol, which FQMD now manages. When Simms and FQMD were trying to get a special patrol off the ground, the city wouldn’t pony up a wooden nickel. Mr Torres, as you are no doubt at least as well aware as I am, got the FQ’s Security Task Force going with shovels full of his own money and whizzy methods for fast response. While the design was clever and his energy to get it going impressive, it did not require arcane science that was not available to the administration. Torres’s system used small vehicles, GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, iPads, radios, cell phones and apps, some of it industrial grade, but all commercially available stuff.. I am sure every security trade fair has loads of stands of manufacturers eager to demonstrate how your city will be safe from everything from T-shirts to tornadoes if you buy the stuff from them.
Sidney Torres left the mayor standing flatfooted on police innovation and response, and is now a potential mayoral candidate considered by many to be a guy who can get stuff done, bringing more reality and less performance art to City Hall. Rivalry? Jealousy? Avoid giving free publicity to a possible adversary? I don’t know.
Or maybe the reason is simpler: only a few bits of the the “Security Plan” really have anything to do with security. The semi-pros of the STF would spot that.
VCPORA sponsored a presentation by a city admin line-up at the St Jude Center on Monday, March 13. Jeff Hebert, a well spoken, fluent deputy mayor was at the helm, flanked by an all-star cast of the Mayor’s best and brightest. Hebert started off with the big news that right then, as he was speaking, teams were replacing incandescent street light bulbs with new LEDs.
Changing lightbulbs as lead item in a supposedly dramatic security plan.
Good street lighting deters or displaces street crime at night, but is the team really telling us that changing to more energy efficient, longer lasting light bulbs now needs applause for enhancing my personal safety? What should be ordinary maintenance is revolutionary policing? LEDs use a lot less electricity, last much longer and have a nice white daylight tone. That’s why we all buy them for home now. Even if we didn’t want to, the energy saving regulations push you into it (at least until Trump’s anti-environmental EPA cancels them).
I have heard that the contractor charges about $100 per street light for the change over. Changing street lighting to LEDs is a good thing. Hyping it as innovative security strategy is government by illusion, political show biz.
Rebranding Bourbon Street
Lesley Alley is Bob Rivers’ deputy director at City Planning. Ms Alley has a seductive smile and an engaging public personality. Her message about reforming Bourbon Street was positively missionary. She told a story about walking Bourbon with a City Hall team looking for opportunities for improvement, and Lo and behold! – what did they find, but a cart with a blue tarp roof selling drinks illegally. Well, I never . . . they put a stop to that pretty quick, Lesley could tell us, with a merry twinkle in her eye.
Or is it gone? What if the little street stand turns out to belong to one of the licensed bars?
Some city hall types call in a cop strike on a little pirate daiquiri stand where some guy is trying to hustle a living off the grid. Isn’t that a tax beef? City Hallers might live in an atmosphere where regulations have an inherent mystic glow and enforcement a life of its own, but why should we feel physically safer for that little cart being gone?
Somebody in the city’s troupe picked that up. The point is, tolerating any lawless behavior creates an atmosphere that enables escalations of criminality.
The broken windows theory is alive and well at Palazzo Perdido. Wag your finger early and often. It is just a step from that blue tarp to midnight mass shootings.
New times, they said. Time to re-brand Bourbon for the modern age. Clean it up, add nice benches, plant flowers. I’m imagining it – and not in a good way.
Another winner was the proposed 3:00 AM door closing time. From a whisper that Bourbon bars would have to close at 3:00, it changed to doors open by regulation until 3:00, then doors closed by regulation from 3:00. A regulation destined for the round file of jokes that didn’t work..
I am trying to remember which member of the cast Hebert called on for this one. DPW, I think. Today’s explanation was – ready for this? – street cleaning. Cleaning up Bourbon Street by physically cleaning up Bourbon Street, twice a day instead of once. That would be easier to do, said the official juggling this rapidly cooling potato, if the doors were closed at 3:00. So from some earlier efforts to sell this for damping down drinking and potentially criminal exuberance, door closing had been downgraded to making life easier for street cleaning equipment, which had been cheerfully doing its job with open doors for the last five or six decades.
A questioner asked, “What time is the cleaning now?” The officials quickly checked with each other. “5:00 AM.”
So – street cleaning at 3:00 and then again at 5:00? Why does street cleaning with no rule about doors work at 5:00 but not at 3:00? If door closing was about street cleaning, why was it a feature of a security plan? Is it anything to do with Terrorism being the politician’s magic medusa word to sell anything in America? Or is Mayor Mitch trying out that post-truth thing that Trump, Kellyanne and Sean Spicer are turning into a new art form?
They dropped the door-closing stuff a few days later.
Monitored street cameras are a centerpiece of the story. Some people are suspicious of extra surveillance as another step in government intrusion and a potential authoritarian tool the can be exploited for racial and other division, but I am not much concerned about them. CCTV is another genie we can’t stuff back in the bottle, a functional extension of agency and perception like automation and industrial robotics. If NOPD had a few hundred more officers to keep more foot patrols in the streets and on the corners where the cameras will go, nobody would complain. Do we have a presumption of visual privacy in public space, engaged in actual and potential interactions with hundreds or thousands of people whom we do not know? By walking on Bourbon Street, I have accepted surveillance by an armed officer high on a horse. How different is a camera on a pole?
Monitored cameras work as extensions of the police’s eyes. Cops are hard to recruit and train. The screens can be monitored by civilian employees trained for a specific job. The video recordings might help catch some serious criminals, as in murder, assault and mugging. They may move crime around the map a bit, as professionals figure out where the dark spots are. They may boost sales of hoodies.
But they won’t prevent crime.
The CVB may tell the Homeopathic Hemorrhoid Association of Kentucky that cameras equal immortality and eternal security for your wallet – but they don’t.
I tried to make a point in the Q&A, but I don’t think they got it. I said flat out that the terrorist story is BS and they should give it a break before they sound silly. While not opposed to the cameras in principal, I do question claims they can’t live up to. I asked Jeff Hebert how many cameras they were putting up?
Brief conference: 250.
Two hundred and fifty. They had cited London as one of the cities studied in preparation for their Plan. I asked, are you aware of how many CCTV cameras are up and generally operative in London? No answer. I had a feeling some of them knew but did not want to say, so I did: 442,500 was the best estimate for 2015. Okay, London is a big place. It’s not one of the new megacities like Mexico City or Shanghai, but it’s a lot of people. Three million passengers ride the Underground every day. But 442,500 is more than one CCTV for every 15 residents. We would need 26,700 if them to be in the same game. The monitoring and research operations are a big production. You can see it in movies.
And there is still has plenty of crime. Less shooting than the US; so far, fortunately for them, the Brits don’t seem to get a kick out of guns. But burglary, bicycle theft, car theft, drug sales, prostitution, human trafficking – alive and well in London.
442,500 v. 250. Or if we bring an estimate for the private SafeCamNola cameras, maybe 1,250 or 2,250. One of the mayor’s evangelists said, “Well, we have to start somewhere.”
Wherever it is going to go, there will still be crime, because none of this stuff is real prevention. Bob Simms used to call it “Band-Aids.”
I spoke to police officials after the St Jude presentation. The cops are more realistic than the spokes-folks for the politicians. They know that cameras on Bourbon might move some crime around the map – mugging, assault, robbery, maybe even a bit of pickpocketing, even though cameras can’t see that. Usually not even the victim or people standing next to him can. But they know it is unlikely to significantly affect the overall rates, and is essentially a move in an arms race. I asked, What would happen when a visitor turns up at the police station saying his wallet was missing, that he lost $200 and his Visa card. Will you be able to assign an officer or specialist to review hours of NOPD’s footage, or even more hassle, a private business’s or person’s CCTV, which may require a subpoena? Their expressions said no.
They even admitted that the monitors are unlikely to be able to anticipate or react fast enough to street crime to prevent it.
What the cameras can do, they said, is help catch violent criminals, the shooters who open fire in crowds, killing and wounding some one or many in the party crowds. “And we do have to catch them. We have to get those guys off the street.”
That really sums up what the cameras can do: assist with the apprehension and conviction of perpetrators of impulsive violent crime in key public spaces, and possibly extend NOPD’s spotting of drunken or unaesthetic behavior. It is probably worth doing. People could think more clearly about it if the mayor’s men (and women; we have to fix the English vocabulary) would be clear and straightforward.
What the administration is selling under the tired cover of “security” and “terrorism” is a re-brand of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.
What are their qualifications? They didn’t create its look, its feel, its activity, its fame. Their real, deep-down commercial marketing experience hovers around zero.
They profess to believe that we are in a new age which has left Bourbon behind. They think they know better than the owners, investors and managers of the Bourbon businesses. “Old” Bourbon – it evolves all the time, but I don’t think they see that – has to be upgraded to urban wizard Landrieu’s and the CVB’s shiny new standards. Quick Draw Mitch is riding into town to get the job done, with shiny new pearl handled guns in rhinestone studded holsters, Flim and Flam. They are going to shoot him a nice new paragraph on his resumé – the Man who Tamed Bourbon Street.
Maybe I am just cynical, but I am thinking of Landrieu’s last two romantic stabs at urban renewal. One was the NOLA Patrol – some kids in yellow polo shirts who were going to stalk the French Quarter and do . . . what? Nobody ever figured that out. But Landrieu had seen the Times Square auxiliary patrols actively directing car and pedestrian traffic in New York in bright yellow shirts. He was hooked. He wanted a flashy yellow presence in his French Quarter. Nobody could talk him out of it. Nobody could get him to understand the management depth and supervisory structure that made it work. Michael Harrison, still interim police chief, looked uncomfortable trying to sell that goofy plan to City Council. VCPORA and FQC should have known better, but they supported it too. (They seem to have sobered up since.) The mayor beamed with parental pride. NOLA Patrol did nothing for a while, then fizzled out.
Flip forward, and Hizzonner grabbed onto the monuments issue. He kicked the hornet’s nest of old racism embedded in the post Civil War statues. He had a point. They weren’t really Civil War monuments anyway. They were monuments to the Lost Cause intended to convey and prolong nostalgia for the ante-bellum white myth. They had been commissioned and erected after President Rutherford B. Hayes got Congress to break an election deadlock in his favor by promising Southern Senators and Representatives that he would end the occupation. That got Jim Crow off the ground, and even though Louisiana was part of the United States again, white groups wanted to put up monuments to Confederate generals. Like the battle flag now, they symbolized the white backlash at least much as the imagined nobility of the Lost Cause. At least 620,000 dead and the economy destroyed to defend the disgusting institution of racially determined bondage that held four million people in chattel slavery. Noble, indeed.
They had to wait for General Beauregard to die to commission his statue. We have good reason to believe that if he had been alive, he would have had nothing to do with a memorial of himself in war mode, leading people to their deaths for a cause he had renounced.
Anyway, they are there. My first choice would have been to re-brand them – acknowledge the backlash and the white nationalist movement embedded in Lost Causism. Call it by its real name. Put up signs that said what the statues really represented, and add sculptures out front commemorating the struggle to recover basic human decency from the white backlash that needed another legal input in 1965, a full century after the end of the war, and isn’t over yet. Put good monuments of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey and Frederick Douglass in Lee Circle. Maybe even Chuck Berry, to cheer the place up. And get rid of that creep in front of the Federal Court House while you are at it.
The mayor, a lot of the citizens and the Council took a different decision, and made a dog’s dinner of it. Move them, they said, to a Civil War park and museum, with proper, honest historical information.
Except what the mayor’s men actually did was send in the construction crews to start on moving the statues without even beginning to work out the promised museum and park. So the civil war nuts and the active and passive racists and white nationalists had the emotional ammunition to threaten and scare off the contractors and and the legal bullets to sue the city, delaying the project for years. Now the administration has won legal clearance to start the removals, but still no alternative placement and no plan to satisfy all factions. I don’t have much sympathy for the white-lashers, but they live here. They vote, they talk, they fight, they sue. You have to work out some strategy to deal with them, on the spectrum of appeasement to hard suppression.
So those are the two adventures in urban re-branding Landrieu does not want to be remembered for. He’s on his Third Crusade. But his resumé is weak.
Who are they selling this story to?
They need New Orleanians’ support, or at least non-opposition, but we are not the main customers of the new Garden Bourbon Street. Not the targeted demographic, in rhinestone holster lingo. Maybe that’s why the mayor’s men are dressing it up as security. The mayor and the tourism establishment need the citizens, the Council and the Bourbon Street owners to sit passive so the CVB can sell the story in Nebraska.
They want to put nice benches and flowers on the street of sleazy dreams. Cut back on the strip clubs. (Mind you, “they” say there are some pretty bad ones. I am too chicken to check them out myself.) The CVB must be getting some push-back on convention sales out in flyover country, so with Landrieu, are mixing up a concoction of security, terrorism, safety, updating, maintenance and tourism numbers into a fizzy pastel brew they do not want to admit is Disney tinted.
Is there a deeper agenda?
What if the administration and the Convention and Visitors tourism establishment is working to see Bourbon Street sold off to corporations?
Think of newspapers and media – the takeover by five or six giant operations, some, like News Corp, fully global. Think of Sony moving into Hollywood. Think of Las Vegas. Big fish buying up smaller fish, consolidating power, is the history of business, from the evolution of the banking dynasties to the Robber Barons to Murdoch to Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google. As the corporate state increasingly managed legislation to make political corruption legal and respectable, the corporatization of everything is increasingly evident, and generally depressing. The Obama government’s failure to prosecute anybody for the biggest financial crime wave in a century has virtually legitimized corporate/state force and criminality. They would pretend to prosecute the companies, not the people, and settle for fines. In other words, the government wanted its cut of the loot. The Trump crime White House doesn’t even bother to conceal it. While distracting with talk of economic nationalism and xenophobia, we might even find them increasingly cutting Khazak, Ukrainian and Russian businesses in on the feeding frenzy. Bourbon Street could be great for laundering Revolutionary Guard money, possibly mediated through Kazakhstan and the Trump/Kushner family businesses.
Harrah’s monopoly, questionable as it already is, will look decidedly shaky if Sheldon Adelson or Steve Wynn are invited into Bourbon.
Bourbon Street evolved. It grew naturally through competition and cooperation by individual actors trying to grow their businesses. They still support a lot of musicians, but basically, culture changed to commercial. The offering evolved, experimented, grew. Individual players jostled, competed, fought and occasionally cooperated. It went mafia, then the wise guys faded away. Evolution continues. Younger people whose energy to fight against the never ending hassle and political enemies is still strong come into the game. We don’t know where it will go a few years from now.
But if the corporate entertainment establishment gets hold of it, we do. Think of Las Vegas without the slot machines. Juvenile amusement arcade architecture – a children’s playground for people taking a break from acting grown up.
If that is not what you want to see, you have to untangle the real security parts of The Plan from the attempted takeover of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter by career politicians and ward heelers who neither built it nor managed it, who do not understand and who don’t care because serving the Corporate State is the New American Way.
The way that is on the verge of turning our world into Mad Max, or Elysium.
Next in the series: What real crime prevention might look like, and Police Chief Harrison extracts what the police see as real security from the sickly sweet King Cake mix Landrieu’s team is burying it in.
© NOLAscape March 2017