New Orleans Ending Civilian Patrol In French Quarter

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — One year and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, the French Quarter NOLA civilian patrol is no more.
 The Times-Picayune’s Jonathan Bullington reports Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration is pulling the plug on the pilot program.

         The goal of the program was to put extra bodies on the street to tackle traffic and quality of life issues, so commissioned officers could focus on more violent and pressing crimes.

         The original plan called for 50 civilians to be a part of that patrol, but employment levels never reached that number

         The 12 remaining NOLA Patrol members, out of 20 who began with the program last May, were notified of the cancellation Friday. They will have between 45 and 60 days, per public employment rules, to seek other civil service jobs with the city.

         Deputy Mayor of External Affairs Ryan Berni says the program is shutting down because current laws limit training of patrol members, and because the city is diverting funding for the program to other public safety priorities.

         "A lot of well-meaning individuals signed up, but there have just been limitations in it being as successful as we would have liked it to be," Berni said. "As a result, we're terminating the program in the near future."

         Though launched to high hopes and backed by roughly $800,000 in hotel-motel self-assessment tax revenue, NOLA Patrol seemed to quickly fizzle.

         Choosing to free some cash to help pay for NOPD details with the Sidney Torres-created French Quarter Task Force, the city limited the patrol's total force to 20 people and froze hiring to replace attrition while in the one-year pilot stage.

         The French Quarter Business Association commissioned two different surveys last summer to seek feedback on the patrol from French Quarter businesses. More than 50 percent of respondents in both surveys rated the patrol as ineffective.

         "Nobody ever actually saw them doing anything other than walk around talking to each other," said association president, Robert Watters. "We didn't see any evidence of productivity."
 ' The Times-Picayune public records requests for citations and tickets issued by NOLA Patrol members returned 170 parking tickets, written by five patrol members, totaling $6,450 in violations. But police unions disputed whether civilians could write traffic tickets.

         "Rather than spend money on lawyers fighting with the unions about whether or not we had the ability, we ceded the point and said: We'll just go change the law to give us more clarity," Berni said. "We decided not to fight that fight."

         A bill allowing civilians to handle traffic control duties, introduced by state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, passed the House and currently sits in a Senate committee.

         Berni acknowledged that, despite six to eight weeks of training, NOLA Patrol members were not "appropriately trained" to handle all of the enforcement duties they were asked to perform. And NOPD staffing issues hurt the department's ability to properly supervise patrol members.

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