I was recently asked my opinion about the “Police shutdown of Mardi Gras Costume sale ‘a real drag'” story posted to NOLA.com by several people who know that I work with the New Orleans Police Department as a volunteer community liaison. (This role was essentially conferred as the result of participating in and completing the NOPD Citizens Police Academy.) The story struck a nerve with the community-at-large; it warranted follow-up.
I emailed Captain Hosli, Commander of the NOPD 8th District, the jurisdiction where the infraction occurred, simply asking and commenting, “Were there complaints about the location and/or the event? The community perception is less than favorable.” I promptly received the following response:
I’m hearing lots about it as well. It was not done by officers assigned to the 8th District. The officers were assigned to City Hall in the Finance Department.
A press release is going to be sent out.
Captain Edwin Hosli
NOPD Eighth District
I was relieved to learn that the NOPD 8th District wasn’t responsible for this nonsense. However, the shutdown of this one event struck me as being oddly and astonishingly arbitrary.
Thank you for your email. There is more information available for your consideration. The following statement was issued today by the appropriate authorities: “We have heard from residents across New Orleans for the City to get serious about fairly enforcing laws when it comes to proper permitting and tax and fee collection. As part of standard enforcement sweeps during Mardi Gras, field agents with the City of New Orleans Bureau of Revenue issued a subpoena for the owner of the Blue Nile to appear at City Hall this week to be advised on how to obtain the proper permits and licenses so that the sale can happen in a lawful manner. The sale was asked to be moved inside the bar premises at time. However, at no time is vending permitted on City sidewalks. As we increase field agents in the Bureau of Revenue, we will continue to communicate with residents and business owners about the types of permits needed for these types of events.”
NOPD officers assigned to the Revenue Department issued one Summons, which included violations outlined for not having a manager on premise and for operating outside of their permit for the business location.
There’s a lot about this situation that doesn’t make sense to or sit well with me in general.
The story posted to NOLA.com isn’t objective journalism, nor is it an op/ed piece; in my opinion, it’s biased and sensationalized (while this might not bother other readers, it annoys me). I prefer my news straight up, without garnish.
Be that as it may: If the City of New Orleans is going after chump change like a one-day costume sale, what’s next — issuing citations to those who hold yard sales that happen to spill over onto a public sidewalk? Will they pull the plug on the French Market’s 28th annual “Mask Market” event next?
Rumor has it that New Orleans is expecting a larger-than-average crowd for this year’s “greatest free show on Earth.” Why does the city’s Administration assign police officers to the Bureau of Revenue during Mardi Gras,when potential threats to public safety could reasonably be expected to be the top priority for all on-duty law enforcement officers?
If this reassignment is deemed to be truly necessary, then why not go after property owners who are committing chronic and repeated violations that are shorting the city’s coffers of as much as tens of thousands of dollars in tax revenue each month during Festival Season, instead of being concerned about the permit status of a one-day-only costume sale event? (Hint: An NOPD officer has noted that there’s no process in place for even issuing citations to the big money law-breakers, so these violations remain unaddressed.)
The shutdown strikes me as going after the low-hanging fruit instead of tackling the big problems head-on with every available officer.
Chief Serpas made the time to appear on the news on the morning of Tuesday, 3/1/11. Speaking about the shutdown of the costume sale, he stated that citizens can’t pick and choose which laws they wish to have enforced, and that venues where alcohol is served are well aware that if the location is open for business, then it is required that a manager be present.
Chief Serpas also alluded to quality of life issues and community complaints; none of which were mentioned by Captain Hosli when I’d asked about complaints in my email inquiry.
As a resident of the NOPD 8th District, I don’t see an event that added a little more Mardi Gras mirth into the mix as being a priority of particular concern. Instead, I’d ask Chief Serpas to refocus on the quality of life issues and citizen concerns that occur year-round and have remained unaddressed for several years’ time.
What I’ve learned by asking a question about this incident is that, when it comes to distinguishing between priorities dictated by the city’s Administration (in my opinion the true force behind this enforcement effort) and the actions of the NOPD, public opinion matters more than fact.
We call for change and improvement on the part of our city’s law enforcement, yet the only acceptable response to the shutdown story seems to be, “It’s the NOPD. Again.” This time, however, it wasn’t — it was the City of New Orleans Bureau of Revenue taking officers off of regular patrolling duty to issue citations.
This knee-jerk reaction doesn’t sit well with me, either. Pay attention, people.