The city's Real Time Crime Monitoring Center. Credit: City of New Orleans

A new initiative from Mayor LaToya Cantrell aimed at reducing litter and illegal dumping includes a surprising component: crime cameras.

In a press release, the Mayor’s Office said that the CleanUpNOLA Initiative will unite various city departments “behind a single goal for a cleaner, healthier, more welcoming city.” The initiative will remove graffiti from public property, introduce 100 new trash cans, and reopen the city’s recycling drop-off center to the public.

The initiative has an enforcement component as well. And crime cameras, linked to the city’s central surveillance hub, will play a role.

Cantrell spokesman David Lee Simmons said the city will install 10 new cameras, but added that this number could rise. He said the decision to expand from the initial 10 cameras is “contingent upon resources.”  The crime cameras will account for $70,000 of the project’s $1 million total budget, Simmons said.

The cameras will run 24 hours a day and feed live footage into the city’s Real Time Crime Monitoring Center — a $5 million facility created in 2017 as part of former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Citywide Public Safety Improvement Plan. The center is managed by the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and currently records footage from more than 300 surveillance cameras across the city, Simmons said.

The new cameras will be used to identify people illegally dumping trash so they can be arrested or fined, Cantrell said. But they will also be used by the New Orleans Police Department for general law enforcement and criminal investigation, according to Simmons.

Simmons said Cantrell preferred not to disclose where those cameras will be in order to “maximize their efficacy.” Cantrell’s Monday announcement included a list of 12 “major corridors” that the CleanUp NOLA Initiative will focus on, but it’s unclear if the new cameras will be installed at any of those locations. The Mayor’s Office estimated that the cameras will be in place within 60 days.

“This initiative is about more than trash, graffiti, tall weeds and unkempt properties,” Cantrell said at a press conference on Monday. “These issues have a negative impact on our economic development, safety, and the quality of life of every New Orleanian.”

The initiative also adds two new Sanitation Rangers to the Department of Sanitation to increase enforcement, as well as two additional inspectors at the Department of Safety and Permits.

The Landrieu administration established the crime camera network administration in 2017 with the construction of the Monitoring Center and the installation of 250 additional city-owned cameras.

Critics said the cameras were an invasion of privacy — potentially raising constitutional issues — and warned that they could exacerbate racial biases in the criminal justice system. Immigrant rights groups said the surveillance program could put undocumented immigrants at greater risk of arrest and deportation.

The opposition became even louder when Landrieu proposed a sweeping ordinance that would force every bar and restaurant in the city with a liquor license to install street-facing cameras that would feed into the monitoring center. In the face of strong opposition, Landrieu abandoned the ordinance.

As mayor-elect, Cantrell said she wouldn’t pursue the failed ordinance. But since taking office, she’s displayed an appetite to expand the surveillance network through other avenues.

“I’m more excited about expanding it,” Cantrell said about the surveillance network in a recent interview with WDSU. “We are moving it, growing it,” she said, adding that the system was “a jewel in the city of New Orleans.”

Last month, the New Orleans City Council approved the transfer of $100,000 from the Gentilly Development District to the office of Homeland Security for the installation of eight new crime cameras in Gentilly. The ordinance was considered at Cantrell’s request.

Meanwhile, the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board has entered consent decrees with several bars accused of violating the city’s liquor laws that have forced them to install cameras that feed into the monitoring center.

Cantrell has also expressed an interest in integrating private camera networks with the city’s Monitoring Center. One such network, the nonprofit ProjectNOLA, has installed thousands of cameras throughout the city.

“The ‘canopy’ of cameras integrated into the Real Time Crime Center is virtually unlimited as we utilize private sector cameras to supplement the city-owned cameras,” said a recent report issued by the Cantrell administration.

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and...