New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell at a press conference ahead of Hurricane Sally on Sept. 14, 2020. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

A plan from Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration would allow the superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department to deputize civilian employees of some city departments to issue citations for certain quality of life municipal violations. 

The plan was presented to the City Council Community Development committee on Tuesday in the form of five interconnected ordinances. The committee unanimously voted in favor of all the ordinances, but they still need to be approved by the full council before going into effect. 

The ordinances would allow the deputization of employees from the Department of Public Works, Department of Sanitation, the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the Ground Transportation Bureau and the Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board. 

The ordinances would give those deputized employees the ability to issue citations on a wide range of local laws that mostly revolve around garbage collection, illegal dumping, blocking the public drainage system, overgrown weeds, public right-of-way obstructions, rodent control and tour guide regulations. 

The plan was presented to the council on behalf of the Cantrell administration on Tuesday by Ross Bourgeois, the administrator of the city’s video surveillance hub, the Real Time Crime Center. 

“It will increase the targeted enforcement efforts without an additional manpower burden on the police department,” Bourgeois said. “All enforcement will be conducted by citation and prosecuted in Municipal Court.”

The central aim of the legislation is cracking down on certain quality of life issues without having to pull from the NOPD’s resources. 

“These entities will be able to enforce some of the most common, time-consuming violations,” said Councilman Jay Banks, who sponsored the ordinances on Cantrell’s behalf. “These workers will no longer have to call NOPD to come out and issue citations. And the point of this being to free up our law enforcement trained personnel to be able to handle life threatening activities.”

Bourgeois said that the deputized employees wouldn’t have arrest powers. 

“There will be no physical arrests involved in these citations. And training on the issuance of citations will be conducted by subject matter experts in the respective fields.”

Bourgeois said that if the ordinances pass and department employees are allowed to issue citations, they will still primarily rely on warnings and education to get code violators in line. But he said that those departments needed to be able to back up those warnings with real consequences, especially for repeat violators who have already received multiple warnings.

“This is to give their warnings some teeth,” he said. “Enforcement is going to be the last resort. Voluntary compliance and warnings are the current order of the day.”

The superintendent is already allowed to deputize civilians under city law, although as currently written it appears to be intended for security guards. The proposed ordinances would amend the law to include “governmental employees” along with security guards. 

The new ordinances clarify that no government employees should be deputized until the NOPD creates and finalizes rules for deputization.

Bourgeois said the NOPD is currently working on creating those rules. Councilwoman Helena Moreno asked whether those rules would need to be cleared with the NOPD’s court-appointed federal consent decree monitor. Bourgeois said he didn’t believe that would be necessary but wasn’t sure.

Moreno voted in favor of all the ordinances, but was the only council member to bring up concerns and potential issues with the plan. To start, she said she wanted to introduce an amendment to clarify three things — that the deputized civilians won’t have arrest powers, that they cannot use any use of force outside of self defense and that they aren’t allowed to carry firearms. 

“We’re certainly amenable to an amendment that would allow those things,” Bourgeois said.

Moreno also brought up concerns about the wide range of laws covered by the ordinances and how strictly the civilian employees would police those violations. Moreno noted that, especially in the wake of Hurricane Ida, some of the listed violations are very common throughout New Orleans.

“Take a look at the city right now,” she said. “All the things I’m looking at right here that they’d give violations for is pretty much everything that’s happening in the city right now. Everything’s a violation right now.”

Under the proposed ordinances, employees of the Department of Sanitation could write citations related to the section of the City Code that governs waste collection, including regular garbage, recycling, bulk pickups and yard trimmings. 

Those include regulations on how construction sites manage and dispose their bulky waste and prohibitions on landfills burning trash. But the majority of the law covers minor violations, for example when a garbage bin “does not close to where it is in contact with the rim” or when yard trimmings are placed inside a garbage bin instead of next to it.

Employees of the Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board would be allowed to write citations related to a chapter in the city code primarily dealing with pest control. The laws in that chapter largely revolve around setting specific standards for residences and businesses to prevent rodent infestations. 

Employees of the Grounds Transportation Bureau would be deputized to enforce the part of the City Code governing tour guides. The laws require tour guide permits and set detailed rules for how tours are allowed to operate, like how many people can be on one tour and how late they can run. 

Three city departments — Public Works, Homeland Security and Sanitation — would be given joint responsibility to enforce a large swath of laws related to interfering with the city’s drainage system, litter, overgrown weeds, abandoned property, obstructing the right-of-way with tents or performances and pavement cutting.

Moreno noted that the wide range of minor and common violations covered under the proposed ordinances would leave the potential for excessive ticketing. 

“I just want to make sure they’re focusing on really big things, on those who are egregious, those who are constantly not doing the right thing,” she said. “I just want to make sure this doesn’t turn into now let’s go after low hanging fruit. We’re gonna walk around some neighborhood and say, ‘Hey this person doesn’t have their trash cart correctly covered and this person mixed weeds and shrubs with household waste.’ “

She said that while a single municipal violation may not seem like a big deal, it can potentially cause long-term issues for some residents

“I think we have to be careful because, once again, these are all fees and fines going into Municipal Court. And if you don’t show up to Municipal Court, you don’t pay your fees or fines, then you end up with another ticket and another fee or fine. So my point is we just need to be careful in how we proceed and that we’re going after those who are the continuous bad actors.”

Bourgeois said that the intent was to use the law only for repeat violators who are causing significant quality of life issues. 

“They’ll only be focusing on the significant issues,” he said. “I don’t think this is targeting residential neighborhoods. This is targeting something a little more commercial.”

Moreno said that ultimately, the “devil is in the details.”

“I really believe in the intent of what y’all are working on. But once again the execution is going to be key.”

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...