File Bourbon Street crime scene

Bourbon Street in New Orleans is seen in this 2018 file photo. ( | The Times-Picayune archives)

New Orleans' extensive network of surveillance cameras got a major boost in 2017 when then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu was engaged, as New Orleans mayors generally are, in a search for ways to reduce crime.

Another of hizzoner's proposals was to close the doors of barrooms at 3 a.m., although they would still be allowed to dispense booze, and customers could come and go. If such an ordinance were introduced in most American cities, any opposition would probably come from the puritan element, but here it was regarded as an assault on what is known, somewhat oddly, as our “culture.” Bar owners, fearing a loss of business, raised a spirited protest and the idea was scrapped.

Although several revelers had recently been shot on Bourbon Street, one fatally, the lead always seemed to stop flying before 3 a.m. and the decision to leave the bars in peace had little discernible effect on crime rates. Many of the insomniacs propping up bars would not have been able to shoot straight anyway.

Current Mayor LaToya Cantrell has enjoyed little success in her crime-fighting efforts, one of the main reasons she faces a recall petition, although she just claimed on “Face the Nation” that the city is finally “moving in the right direction.” The latest Metropolitan Crime Commission bulletin has confirmed that all categories of violent crime are down, but that is not saying much, given that New Orleans remains the nation's murder capital.

In any case, almost all the crime-fighting brainwaves seem to come from the City Council, the members of which have made no secret of their disdain for Cantrell's anemic response to the biggest challenge to have faced local government in recent years.

The latest council idea, borrowed from Baltimore, is to shutter businesses that harbor stolen property or turn a blind eye to illegal drugs or guns. Similar proposals in the past have drawn howls of protest because they were aimed exclusively at bars and restaurants, but this one applies across the board and ensures equal treatment and due process

It provides that, if three infractions are reported within a year, police can declare a business a chronic nuisance and negotiate a resolution with the owner. If that doesn't work, the cops can wheel out the city attorney to seek a court order imposing a fine or closing the joint down.

The need for judicial approval should allay fears of selective enforcement, according to the sponsor of the ordinance, council member Helena Moreno, whose confidence in the fairness of the process is apparently shared by interim Police Superintendent Michelle Woodfork. The ordinance is naturally jake with people living close to raucous bars or shady convenience stores.

With the New Orleans Police Department chronically and cripplingly short of manpower, the need of reinforcements is obvious, so both Cantrell and the council are calling for other law enforcement agencies to pitch in. The council also proposes an ad campaign to explain the folly of leaving unsecured guns in cars. Unbelievably, many parents of young children seem incapable of figuring this out for themselves.

If the council is less than impressed with Cantrell's response to the street crime that has the populace on more or less permanent edge, Landrieu came in for even harsher words in 2017, when then-District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro blamed him for allowing the NOPD to “atrophy” and presiding over a “frighteningly dramatic increase in the level of violence.” The search for ways to reduce it may never end.

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