Council’s cuts of Downtown police detail a mixed blessing

by Christiaan Mader

Trimming the detail won't improve security directly, but Downtown officials say the compromise is far from a catastrophe.

Photo by Robin May

Framed as something of a compromise, the city council has shifted $85,000 from the budget for Downtown’s weekend police detail to the general overtime budget for the police department. The move knocks the total amount allocated directly to the detail to $200,000 while allowing the police department to assign cops to the district on as needed basis via general overtime funds.

Some have complained that Downtown’s weekend scene has been unruly, with large clubs routinely spilling their customers by droves into the street as 2 a.m. rolls around. Last month, a Rayne man died from gun shot wounds suffered during a Downtown attack that left two others injured.

Nathan Norris, chief executive officer of the Downtown Development Authority, says the nature of the compromise on the cut reflects a positive development in a year-long effort to address fundamental regulation enforcement and ordinance issues Downtown. Originally, Downtown officials feared that a budget cut would limit weekend security to only one night a week, which would leave the district reeling for help on either Friday or Saturday.

Lafayette Police Chief Reginald Thomas questioned the wisdom of an outright cut, seeing a definitive need for continued security Downtown, according to a report by The Advocate.

The deal reached by the council keeps both nights on the table.

“I think it was a good thing for the council to question the amount of money that goes to the Downtown detail,” Norris told The IND by phone. “We should be able to lower the amount by giving those in charge of keeping the peace Downtown more tools to work with.”

By tools Norris is referring to stop gap enforcement measures and regulatory reforms that he says could allow officials to control basic nuisances and dangerous criminality alike. Nipping problems further down the stem could reduce the amount of police security required long term.

Norris says DDA wants to implement noise control, parking management, localize alcohol permitting — at present managed by the state — and revisit the use of to-go cups in the district. He says that the mix of go cups and abundantly free parking gives rise to impromptu after parties in nearby parking lots that can be problematic for enforcement.

Many of these considerations and solutions were brought to fore earlier this summer by visiting consultant Jim Peters, an expert on the development of so-called "hospitality districts" who criticized Downtown's controversial bar ban.

Councilmen Jay Castille and Kenneth Boudreuax were the primary forces behind the push to trim the Downtown detail. On their view, Downtown’s security costs are an unfair burden borne by a city-wide tax base that doesn’t benefit directly from the service.

As Downtown’s bar moratorium lingers unchanged after 13 years, it’s not clear how to resolve Downtown’s ongoing security issues with its regulatory future uncertain. Since movement on the issue stirred in February of this year, little progress seems to have been made in unlocking the ban, which caps the number of bar licenses Downtown at 16 and tethers them to physical addresses.

The bar license monopoly arguably inflates the price of building stock Downtown, particularly buildings with extant licenses, and all but assures that buildings like the currently vacant former Karma building will remain nightclubs.

Lifting the ban, some say, could exacerbate nightlife-associated crime and further tax the police department’s crowd control capacity by proliferating bars. On the other hand, conditions of use like lowered club capacity limitations, security fees and dues or graduated penalties for non-compliance could defray those issues while deflating costs.

Presently, Norris argues, there’s little that can be done to control troublesome operations short of shutting them down, effectively tying the hands of officials reluctant to shut clubs down altogether.

“Who wants to put someone out of business?” Norris says. “That’s not the American way.”