Mardi Gras, meet the new Administration

I was recently asked my opinion about the “Police shutdown of Mardi Gras Costume sale ‘a real drag'” story posted to 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.

I was surprised to receive a second reply from Captain Hosli later that evening, a forwarded response from NOPD Superintendent Chief Serpas regarding “the incident on Frenchman Street”:

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 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.


12 thoughts on “Mardi Gras, meet the new Administration

  1. Thank you for nailing this down so explicitly.
    As a new home owner and future resident of the 5th District, I’ve been wondering about acquiring a more engaged view of the NOPD. As a survivor of the Federal Flood of 8.29.05, and thus of that department’s decent into feral madness, I cannot aptly describe how hard it is for me to even stand next to one of their officers. But, well before that Kafkatrina nightmare, I had ceased to look the NOPD in the eye, even on a good day, even if they were off duty. It just wasn’t done. Since I’ve been watching them (1978) we were taught over the years –and no one will deny this– to look away from the NOPD. Who hasn’t walked by while they were taking action that didn’t get the stern warning “Walk On!”, or “You Got A Problem, Bra?” –and failure to turn away meant immediate serious trouble, Hard Trouble.
    We were taught to look away from the NOPD.

    But, I can honestly say That Was Then… based in no small measure on your own work with them as Community Liaison. Indeed, what you have done to bring out the people who now populate NOPD is a great part of my decisions to invest in the city, to in fact lay it all on the line.

    Yes, facing NOPD will still be hard for me, but nothing compared to addressing those to whom I’ve handed careless rudeness. You nailed me there too and I appreciate it.
    Thanks again.

  2. I realize that the NOPD isn’t without fault, and I don’t always agree with the priorities or actions of my District or of the NOPD’s commanding officers. Truth is, I only see eye-to-eye with the Commander of the Eighth District about two-thirds of the time (but that’s still a higher percentage than when I’m in support of the actions of my Councilperson).

    I also know that, in paying attention to the Eighth, First, and Fifth Districts, my ability to work with these stations has been easiest in that particular order (Eighth being the easiest and Fifth being the most difficult in my experience).

    It is my opinion that, out of the NOPD’s eight districts, the Fifth District is the one most in need of house-cleaning. I sincerely hope that Chief Serpas also comes to view this as a priority for action. (Simply put, the Fifth District is considered in the community as being the “problem station” of the NOPD.) That being said, I believe that it’s still worth the effort to try and build a relationship with your district’s officers.

    The easiest (most painless) way to start interacting with NOPD as a citizen is to attend the monthly “New Orleans Neighborhood Police Anti-Crime Council” (NONPACC) meetings held in each district. I’ve learned that you gain a voice and respect by simply being there.

    The following is the city’s web page listing all NOPD community police meetings:

  3. “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.”

    This is the only thing that strikes me as 100% after-the-fact CYAssery. As a longtime resident of the 8th district, I can pretty much say with all certainty that if any downtowner was to make a list of things the city needed to “get serious” about, shutting down renegade flea markets wouldn’t even make the top fifty. Regardless of inflammatory rhetoric in earlier articles, this statement absolutely does NOT pass the smell test.


  4. Thanks for an engaging, accurate and no nonsense writing.
    It strikes to the bone regarding what happened here.

    While it may seem like a short term incident of no real interest, other than inflammatory remarks, those involved with this event work for months creating their work, and depend on it for income; as do us locals for last minute costuming. Costuming may be a silly point, but a serious chunk of annual income to impoverished artists is not.

    There are literally dozens & dozens of bars in the French Quarter selling t-shirts, cups, etc, as well as a few offering belly shots, well outside the legal health parameters. But not one of them has been summoned to court, certainly never shut down over it.

    And to be clear, the artists there were SHUT DOWN, not “asked to be moved inside the bar premises at time.”

    In previous years, having a bar owner on site precluded requiring a manager’s license, one of the infractions here. Since everybody agrees that the owner was there & summoned, this should be addressed as well.

    Perhaps an announcement of these new enforcements (this was the 20th year for the Frenchmen St event) would have been prudent, rather than playing GOTCHA! like Chief Serpas did with the brass bands playing in the Quarter. If it comes from higher up, it matters not. the approach is equally deplorable entrapment.

    In closing, anyone who ever attended a NONPAC meeting at the 5th District knows they’d be better of at a punch & Judy show. Having had one of their officers wave his gun at me, for no reason, in uniform & on duty, they cleared it up by investigating themselves and finding no wrong doing.

    For the record, since precedence has now been set by the NOPD, that will be my defense for everything, forever.

    Thanks again for your insight, wisdom & clarity of thought.

    Lord David
    New Orleans

  5. Many legit businesses on Frenchmen have been quietly asking for greater police presence and enforcement of rules in general of late. City Hall people with clipboards have been up and down the street during the last week or so checking licenses, permits, Manager and TAM cards. I think the shutdown of the costume sale was a byproduct of this and not the target….I think that was why Serpas commented about enforcing all rules, not that it is 100% true or that the rules and permit process is logical….

  6. It is my understanding that coordinated sweeps involving officers from the NOPD Eighth District, the NOFD, the Health Department, and other administrative or regulatory entities are currently in progress throughout the French Quarter to address a number of violations and issues. I am uncertain, however, if these activities are also occurring in the Marigny Triangle concurrently.

    I believe that the costume sale incident was a separate and specific action directed by the City of New Orleans’ Bureau of Revenue, as none of the other agencies participating in the coordinated “sweep actions” were involved, and that Captain Hosli’s response to my inquiry would also suggest such.

  7. According to your the press release you included above, Chief Serpas states:
    “The sale was asked to be moved inside
    the bar premises at time.”

    However, Flea Market founder, Cree McCree, tells me this:

    “Chief Serpas is wrong. We were initially told to move
    vendors off the sidewalk by two female agents (who I
    later learned were from the revenue department).
    We had started to do that when a male NOPD officer,
    in full blue mufti, said we would have to clear the
    premises and shut the entire sale down.
    He warned us they would come back to check if we’ve
    complied with that order. Needless to day, we did.

    We have several witnesses to this action, including
    Jesse Paige (Owner of the Blue Nile) himself.
    Had we merely been asked to clear the sidewalk,
    I would certainly have continued the sale inside.
    We were totally shut down.”

    This hardly seems like the NOPD were innocent bystanders, but rather that they kicked a dog already belly up.

    If these officers were acting without the support, instruction and/or knowledge of both Captain Hosli & the Revenue Department, they should be cited for it.

    Perhaps Captain Hosli knows who was on duty doing this.
    He certainly should.

  8. The difference (particularly in tone) between the second email response (the press statement) forwarded from Chief Serpas and Serpas’ subsequent comments on WWL TV on the morning of 3/1/11 didn’t sit well with me. I do not doubt the account of the events as clarified by Cree McCree (or those of anyone else who was present when the costume sale was shut down). While I can’t exactly say why, there’s something in the space between the two (Serpas’ press statement and the subsequent WWL appearance) that doesn’t quite work for me.

    Captain Hosli stated clearly in his initial email response that “It was not done by officers assigned to the 8th District.” Why should he reasonably be expected to know who issued the citation if it wasn’t issued by one of the officers under his direct command?

    At the end of the day, the NOPD answers to Mayor Landrieu, as does the Finance/Treasury Department (which, I suspect, would include the Bureau of Revenue, although that isn’t noted explicitly on the City of New Orleans’ organizational chart: ). If the NOPD is under Deputy Mayor Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed and the Finance/Treasury Department is under Chief Financial Officer Norman Foster, the only two overt points “higher on the food chain” are either First Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin or, above him, Mayor Landrieu himself. Some degree of cooperation would be required of all of the city’s Administrative entities, but that hardly mandates a “conspiracy” or collusion by default.

    Ms. McCree or Mr. Paige, as the recipients of the citation and the summons re: the “no manager on duty” violation, respectively, should be able to identify the issuing officer directly (it should be a matter of record on those documents — I’d expect to see the officer’s name and badge number, for instance).

  9. I just received a forwarded email from Scott Hutcheson, Advisor to the Mayor for Cultural Economy, that:

    (a) outlines the “step by step explanation of the basic procedures needed to get the first level of permits to hold a special event and to run a cultural business” and provides “specific direction on doing business in a Cultural Products District which has special tax considerations”;

    (b) further supports my “suggestion” (opinion, really, as stated in the original post) that this was the work of City Hall; and

    (c) was immediately headache-inducing.

    Email sent by Scott Hutcheson re: “City Permitting and Licensing Process for Special Events”:

    Special Events Permitting Fact Sheet Attachment:

    Special Events Permitting by Item:

    Occupational License and Sales Tax Fact Sheet for Arts and Cultural Businesses:

    I didn’t enjoy reading any of these documents; I can’t imagine how anyone else would, either.

    Would the NOPD have shut down the event without the participation of the personnel from the Bureau of Revenue? Who knows? To the best of my knowledge, the costume sale hadn’t experienced any police interference in its prior 19-year history… So what’s different now?

    While ultimately all NOPD officers are under the command of NOPD Superintendent Chief Serpas, the action occurred at the direction of the Bureau of Revenue (who, apparently, must utilize NOPD officers to issue citations and summonses). Stated simply, that’s a different chain of command in a City Hall that’s ALL under a new boss.

    In closing, I very much agree with the sentiment recently expressed by Thom Kahler of regarding this subject: “Selling a tutu without an appropriate license is not going to cost any lives–or start anyone on a life of crime.”


  10. Pingback: Enforcement vs. Culture: Winning the battle while losing the war? « NOLAFemmes

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