As a busy fall season looms, New Orleans’ tourism sector scrambles to bolster security | Business News


Brian Kern, the “Chief Spookster” of the Krewe of Boo!, the Halloween parade that rolls down a three-mile route in downtown New Orleans in late October, says he’s going to do whatever it takes for the march to proceed as normal this year.

The event was canceled two years ago because of the pandemic, and last year Kern was informed just two days before parade day that the route had to be cut by a mile because of staff shortages at the New Orleans Police Department.

“We need the full parade route this year and we just have to figure a way,” Kern said. “Everybody says this is a litmus test, especially for Mardi Gras next year.”

The specter of another canceled Carnival was raised last month when Mayor LaToya Cantrell floated the idea — quickly retracted — that such drastic action might be necessary because of dwindling police numbers.

Indeed, this year the NOPD staffing crisis has worsened. And new plans to address it likely will take months to have any effect, given that staffing issues are affecting law enforcement agencies — and many other employers — nationwide.

Orleans Levee District Police stops near Harrahs New Orleans Casino before continuing down Canal street in New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. Businesses are casting far and wide for security to take off-duty details. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

That means events organizers like Kern and other hospitality concerns are competing to hire security staff from a dwindling pool of officers, even as the coming fall season promises to be a busy one.

The Labor Day weekend, which included the first LSU game of the season at the Caesars Superdome as well as the Southern Decadence festival in the French Quarter, saw hotel occupancy nearly back to 2019 levels. Average room rates soared, so that “revenue per available room”, the key gauge for hoteliers, was at more than $153 on for the weekend compared to $118 three years ago, according to STR, which tracks hotel data.

That has the city’s tourism sector giddy with anticipation for a fall season that promises to see crowds at the Superdome and Smoothie King Center back at normal levels.

Fall festivals include regulars, like the Beignet Fest and the National Fried Chicken Festival, and some newer ones. For instance, New Orleans and Company, the city’s official tourism promotion agency, is bringing back the Nola X Nola event that last year filled in for the canceled autumn Jazz and Heritage Festival.

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is expecting visitor numbers to swell this autumn to 250,000 as more “citywide” events — i.e., those attracting 10,000 to 20,000 attendees — are booked into its huge halls, including several big medical and tech events.

Optimism tempered with concern

But the hospitality sector’s jubilation at the prospect of crowds flowing back into the city is tempered with anxiety over the deteriorating security situation. The police staffing crisis has been accompanied by a surge in violent crime. 

To be sure, the murders, carjackings and robberies that have been plaguing the city primarily affect residents rather than tourists. But the worry in the hospitality world is that the perception of New Orleans as one of the most dangerous cities in America could put off visitors, or at least put a crimp on their willingness to venture out and enjoy themselves — and spend money — while they’re in town.

Mike E. Cahn III is president of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association security network. He says crime surging anywhere in the city affects the hospitality industry as it makes people feel fearful. Photographed on Friday, September 2, 2022. (Photo by Brett Duke, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

“All crime that affects the city of New Orleans is concerning for tourism because when people read about crime in the city they don’t dissect it by district or sub-zone, or street,” said Mike Cahn, director of security at The Roosevelt. “They just fear for their safety.”

To bolster security in the main tourism areas, the hospitality sector as a whole has taken some recent steps.

Last year, French Quarter voters approved a 0.245% special sales tax — the “quarter for the Quarter” — to fund additional patrols in the area, called the Supplemental Police Patrol Program.

Also, New Orleans and Company has put up $600,000 for a program that started last March, aiming to double the number of supplementary French Quarter patrols.

The “Upper Quarter Patrol”, as it is called, uses the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office for off-duty details, whereas the existing supplemental patrols have been staffed by off-duty NOPD officers. The agency also is funding the purchase of eight Chevy Volt vehicles for the SPPP.

The Downtown Development District — a state agency funded by taxes in parts of the Central Business and Warehouse Districts — recently said it would spend $1 million a year to add two armed patrols. The new security staff will be supplied by Vets Securing America, which employs former members of the military.

Trend Dang, DDD’s spokesman, said the $1 million had been budgeted to pay for off-duty NOPD officers. “But we were unable to fulfill that because of the NOPD staff shortages, so we looked elsewhere,” he said.

The extra efforts have been welcomed by downtown businesses, though the existing programs have struggled to meet their targeted number of patrols.

The French Quarter Management District, for example, has found it hard at times to find officers to take on details, according to the minutes of FQMD security committee meetings. That is in part because the NOPD now runs the patrol directly and pays regular NOPD overtime. Previously, the FQMD paid off-duty officers rates set by City Hall’s Office of Police Secondary Employment, which can be much higher.

As Brian Kern points out, it is difficult to get employees of the NOPD or the Sheriff’s Office to give up their free time for double-time rates, even for relatively easy parade duty, when some bars and businesses are offering the top OPSE rate of $80 an hour.

Steve Caputo, general manager of the 570-room Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street in the French Quarter, said they are spending the extra money on security and taking other measures to protect both their own staff as well as visitors.

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“It’s not just about crime or having actual victims, it’s about the perception of danger,” he said.

‘Every single night’

Caputo, a member of the FQMD’s security and enforcement committee, said he feels the risk level in his neighborhood has increased as dwindling police numbers have given criminals a new brazenness.

“There are people walking around near the hotel with what look to be semiautomatic rifles,” he said. “We have video of people at 2 o’clock in the morning walking up and down the street there, threatening people with these things (guns) hanging out. The perception of danger is real, and it’s there every single night.”

The Monteleone now employs an off-duty sheriff’s deputy from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at the front door. It closes its second entrance at 6 p.m. The Carousel Bar now closes at midnight.

“These people don’t seem to have any fear of the police; that’s the problem,” Caputo adds.

He said that NOPD cover for the Quarter can be even thinner than official numbers indicate. “We’ve heard reports in the 8th District (which includes the French Quarter) that there can be only three officers working patrol. How do three officers possibly patrol effectively the entire 8th District?”

NOPD spokesperson Gary Scheets didn’t respond directly to questions about patrol numbers. But he pointed out there had been 19 gun arrests over the Labor Day weekend, and that response times — which have soared and become a major concern — fell by 23% over the weekend period.

Hotel and venue operators outside the Quarter also have been looking far and wide to fill security gaps.

Chitimacha Tribal Police from St. Mary's Parish doing canine patrols on game day at Caesars Superdome

Chitimacha Tribal Police travel more than 120 miles from St. Mary’s Parish for New Orleans Saints game days at Caesars Superdome.

At the Superdome, for example, canine officers from the Chitimacha Tribal Police travel more than 120 miles from St. Mary Parish to do patrols on game day.

ASM Global, which operates the Superdome and Smoothie King Center, and its oversight body, the Stadium and Exposition District Board, declined to discuss measures it is taking to cover the sharp decline in available officers, citing security concerns.

Ranks depleted

David Piscola, general manager of the Hilton Riverside, the city’s largest hotel with more than 1,500 rooms, said he has previously used the Harbor Police to augment the hotel’s core security staff of 30.

The Convention Center also usually employs off-duty Harbor Police to secure areas outside its halls.

But like most agencies, the Harbor Police Department is well below its budgeted levels, down seven officers from its full complement of 41. Its chief says the priority is staffing for regular duties.

“The Harbor Police Department is recruiting officers for the needs of our agency, not to cover optional detail duty for the Convention Center,” Chief Melanie Montroll said through a spokesperson.

Piscola said he has contracted a third-party firm to fill in the gaps after a lengthy search.

“It’s not out of a sense of fear or despair, but we want to have a visible security presence to give our guests an extra sense of comfort,” Piscola said.

Cahn, who is a 30-year veteran of the NOPD, is also president of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association’s security network, which was set up a few years ago by downtown hotels to fill gaps left by depleted law enforcement ranks.

The network now consists of about 100 members, including heads of hotel security and local, state and federal law enforcement.

He says it has improved security. A recent example, he said, was an alert sent out by the New Orleans office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms about “a very violent criminal” they believed was holed up at a French Quarter hotel.

The alert sent out on the network located the suspect within 20 minutes. ATF officers arrested him 10 minutes later, Cahn said.

“We can’t change what’s going on inside the city that is out of our control,” he said. “All we can do is adapt and overcome as best we can and give the police as much information as we can.”

For his part, Kern is hoping to get 60 NOPD officers to take the Krewe of Boo! shifts next month, leaving another 30 slots to fill from elsewhere.

“I’m doing everything in my power,” he said. “I’ve now reached out to five police agencies, not counting the (Louisiana) State Police. It’s imperative we do this event after what’s happened to the city in the last two years and I’m just hoping enough police sign up for the detail.”


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