Flanked by Gov. John Bel Edwards, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced a $40 million plan purportedly aimed at enhancing safety in New Orleans. The principal aim of the plan appeared to be twofold: 1) taming Bourbon Street; and, 2) beginning the process of turning New Orleans into some kind of Orwellian surveillance state.
A slick brochure accompanied the plan. Although the entire scheme garnered public attention, the most debated provision was titled “Action 6: Modify & Enforce ABO Code.” It reads as follows:
“The City will enhance its public safety efforts by increasing its enforcement of the existing alcohol and beverage outlet (ABO) code and amending the code to add additional public safety measures. New measures will include requiring all ABOs to install and maintain security cameras that can feed into the new Command Center and requiring all ABOs to close their doors after 3:00 a.m.”
It was that last bit that really stuck in the craw of every freedom-loving lush in New Orleans. Bars forced to close their doors at 3 a.m.? What is this supposed to be, Peoria?
Media reports from the press conference yielded a few additional details. Apparently, Landrieu did not intend to propose a full curfew, so the bars would still be permitted to stay open. Supposedly, patrons may enter and leave – the only issue is whether the door would be propped.
But what about those plucky, obstinate customers who, undeterred by the prospect of a closed-but-operable door, nevertheless elect to stay outside?
According to the Advocate, Landrieu stated that the 3 a.m. restriction “would be combined with ‘sweeps’ by the New Orleans Police Department aimed at ‘encouraging’ people to leave the streets and move into bars[.]” With all due respect to Mayor Landrieu, “encouraging” by NOPD officers evokes images of illegal commands and bogus arrests, not gentle prodding.
To put it more bluntly, police are, unfortunately, trained to boss people around. They are not trained to persuade people to comply with mere suggestions.
In addition to this, the city is also announcing that it will utilize ABO restrictions to require bars to maintain private surveillance cameras linked to an NOPD command center. The city’s brochure does not specify whether these cameras will be indoor, outdoor, or both. Either way, the city is ostensibly requiring bars to enable police to spy on their own patrons.
All of this is, needless to say, a bit disturbing in a freewheeling city whose denizens value their privacy. We are not the types to stay inside due to nebulous concerns about public safety that don’t appear to be grounded in reality. New Orleanians are a hardy breed.
Closing the doors of bars will do measurable damage to New Orleans’ bar culture, but it’s far from clear that it will have any measurable impact on violent crime. At the very least, the scope of that logic has not been explained by city officials. If bars served as a major source of violent crime, those statistics would be shouted from the rooftops.
Instead, the evidence is clear, very few major crimes are committed in the vicinity of the entrance to a bar. If one were to target violent crime, bars would not be at the forefront.
On the other hand, local crones who eschew any form of fun are no doubt delighted by the news that Landrieu has escalated his busybody status to previously unseen levels. That’s what this move is about, after all – the appearance of safety and order. The reality of crime in New Orleans is a separate issue, chronically left unaddressed.
Nobody will be safer because bars close their doors and police harass patrons with the audacity to remain outdoors, but some will undoubtedly feel safer by virtue of the fact that the city is taking some action, no matter how ineffectual or inane.
Hopefully, we know better. We know that this is just a costly distraction, one that evinces a callous disregard for those things that make New Orleans unique, and well-worth saving.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.