Starting Thursday, the city’s new 24/7 Real Time Crime Monitoring Center will be staffed 24 hours a day for the first time since it opened.
When the city unveiled the center in November, it was billed as a 24-hour command center where technicians would pore over video from surveillance and license-plate cameras to help cops on the street.
But it is now staffed just 12 hours a day, according to records provided by the city.
That’s an improvement over its first month, when three technicians worked weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the city.
The city always planned to ramp up the staffing to 24 hours a day, said Aaron Miller, the city’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, in a written statement provided by the communications office.
“At no time was there an expectation to immediately begin around-the-clock staffing,” he said in the statement.
“We are standing in the midst of our brand-new, state-of-the-art, real-time crime monitoring center,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in November after a $5 million renovation.
Housed next to the New Orleans Police Department’s First District station on Rampart Street, the center would be the “24/7 house for the crime cameras, for license plate readers and for other technology,” he said.
The center is a critical part of Landrieu’s controversial $40 million public safety plan, which focuses heavily on surveillance.
The most contentious part of the plan is a proposal to require every bar, restaurant and store that sells alcohol to install exterior cameras that feed footage to the city. An ordinance requiring those cameras is awaiting a city council vote.
The city already has implemented another part of the plan, a network of cameras mounted on telephone poles in crime “hotspots.” By November, the city had about 80 cameras flashing red and blue as they recorded activity on the street below. Landrieu plans to increase that to 250 this year.
Technicians at the camera center monitor and analyze footage using software that allows them to quickly find and separate the relevant portions. They provide the video to police and other first-responders to help them solve crimes and decide how to handle situations.
The closest the center has come to being staffed around the clock was during the Thanksgiving weekend, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, when workers were there between 16 and 20 hours a day, Miller said in an interview. Timesheets showed that hourly workers were there about 15 hours on those days. Miller dispatched salaried employees — whose hours are not reflected in the records — to make up the additional hours.
But on a daily basis, since December the center has been staffed every day from from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Starting Thursday, however, the center will be manned 24 hours a day, divided into two 12-hour squads. Through the end of Mardi Gras, most staff will work every day.
Miller said the extended hours would continue past Mardi Gras. Later in February, it will switch to a permanent 24-hour schedule, with four groups on alternating 12-hour shifts.