An off-duty police detail called the Royal Street Patrol will soon relaunch to deploy non-NOPD officers in a 12-square-block area of the French Quarter after securing six months of funding from New Orleans and Company — a private, publicly-funded marketing agency for New Orleans’ tourism industry.
The patrol was originally started in late 2017 using private donations from nearby businesses, but that ended at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, New Orleans and Company is resurrecting the program, using a public agency to manage it.
New Orleans and Company will provide $600,000 to fund the patrols for an initial six-month period. The program will be overseen by the French Quarter Management District — a state-created public body that also oversees the Supplemental Police Patrol Program, which pays off-duty NOPD officers to police the French Quarter.
The arrangement will be formalized in a cooperative endeavor agreement between the two organizations. FQMD Board Chair Christian Pendleton told The Lens that he expected the contract would be signed on Friday, and was aiming to start the patrols by the end of the month.
The Royal Street Patrol will be staffed by non-NOPD officers, according to Pendleton, likely including Levee Board Police and Probation and Parole officers. The patrol’s priorities will be “providing a visible police presence, deterring aggressive panhandling, inebriants, and illegal sales, with a goal of fostering a clean and safe environment for the community,” according to the CEA.
Pendleton said the non-NOPD patrols were a necessary addition to regular NOPD patrols and the off-duty NOPD supplemental patrols because of an officer shortage at the department. He said that creating a visible police presence in the area was vital as the city’s tourism industry tries to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. In order to do that, he said it’s necessary to turn to other police agencies.
“This is a sincere effort from everybody to try to ensure that as New Orleans comes back, we come back in the best possible way,” Pendlelton said. “And NOPD, quite frankly, needs help right now. They’re short, and they’re going to get shorter before it gets better.”
The CEA explicitly states that the patrols will be managed through a contract with Matthew Pincus, a former NOPD officer and the son of the general manager of the Hotel Monteleone, one of the many hotels that lies within the patrol area for the Royal Street Patrol.
In an interview, New Orleans and Company Vice President of Communications Kelly Schulz stressed the importance of public safety for visitors and residents but said she was unable to answer the majority of The Lens’ questions, and that she wasn’t familiar with the CEA or the details of the program.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea. Ethan Ellestad, executive director of the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans, told The Lens he’s concerned about the program being used to push out street performers and serving as a private security force for the area’s hotels. He’s also worried about potentially negative interactions between street performers and non-NOPD officers, and had questions about hiring Pincus to manage the program without any kind of public bid process.
“Our immediate focus is how this is going to affect street performers and other cultural activity, as well as First Amendment rights on Royal street,” he said. “These are two unelected bodies using public money to essentially fund a private police force for over half a million dollars, which is run by the son of an executive at one of the businesses that support it.”
He said he was worried the patrols would harass and try to run off street performers. According to the CEA, one of the data points the patrols will have to collect is the number of “persons moved.”
He pointed out that non-NOPD officers aren’t subject to the department’s federal consent decree, nor the myriad policies the department has put in place over the last decade to increase accountability and minimize harmful public interactions.
Ellestad said that while he didn’t know whether MACCNO had received complaints specifically about the Royal Street Patrol, they had received several complaints from street performers about their interactions with non-NOPD officers, including the Levee Police, which were used to staff the former iteration of the patrol.
One FQMD board member, Robert Simms, had similar concerns when the patrol was first started, according to FQMD meeting notes from 2017. He said he still had concerns about putting officers in the French Quarter who aren’t accustomed to patrolling the unique neighborhood.
“Yes, those concerns are still there,” he said.
Simms did note, however, that the lack of NOPD officers available for private details put them in a tough position.
”In fairness, NOPD officers are hard to come by, for any detail. It’s getting harder and harder to find officers.”
The CEA indicates that the patrol officers will be given a list of ordinances that are specific to the French Quarter, but it doesn’t require any additional training.
Pendleton said that the reason for funding the Royal Street Patrol, instead of just putting more money into the supplemental NOPD patrols, was due to a lack of available NOPD officers.
“I’m less concerned about the funding for the [Supplemental Police Patrol Program] as much as I’m concerned about the bodies for [it],” he said. “Everyone is trying to figure out a way to make the French Quarter safer for everybody, understanding that NOPD’s resources are beyond strained and limited.”
As for Ellestad’s concerns about harassing or pushing out street performers, Pendleton said that is not the goal of the program.
“The French Quarter without live performance would be boring,” Pendleton said. “We’re not here to hustle street musicians. That’s part of the culture and fabric of the French Quarter.”
Schulz said New Orleans and Company held a similar attitude.
“Not knowing the details of this CEA, we would not be in support of anything that shut down street performances,” Schulz said.
However, Pendleton said there were instances where street performers crossed a line into being too disruptive
“To me, there is a very big difference between aggressive panhandling and street performers,” Pendleton said.
He said that while he couldn’t define that distinction, “I know when I see it,” and that one key to the program’s success would be adjusting in response to feedback.
“We’re trying to be fair,” he said. “At the same time I can’t have a street performer turning four speakers facing my building, blaring it at a stadium concert level. … There has to be a balance.”
He said that safety was important to street performers as well.
“Look, these musicians and these performers, they get roughed up every once in a while. People steal their money, steal their equipment. They want to perform in a safe environment too.”
Pendleton also defended the hiring of Pincus, noting that he managed the program in its previous iteration starting in 2017, which gave him unique and valuable experience for the job. And he said that a public bid process would have taken too long.
“More importantly it was timing. All of those processes are good processes, but they take time. But the need for officers on the street is now. If there had been some sort of history of even questionable behavior, no we wouldn’t have done that. But we know him, we know what they have accomplished. He has strong ties into the French Quarter, he knows this neighborhood.”
“Sometimes you have to make the best decision in front of you at the time, and there was no reason to not give Matthew this opportunity because his family happens to be involved with the hotel Monteleone,” Pendleton said.
Pendleton said that he hoped the Royal Street Patrol would only be a temporary solution as the NOPD solved its staffing issues and started patrolling more consistently so there wouldn’t be a need for a specialized police detail.
“At some point the city has to be able to provide security without all of these different districts around the city popping up, whether it’s Lakeview or Mid-City or Garden District. Everyone’s popping up these extra security districts because they’re not getting the support of the NOPD. At some point we all need the city to get NOPD back staffed up.”