Monday, February 16, 2009

Slate's Uptown Adventure

This post will be sans links as it's just a children's story, a cautionary tale, a narrative with a happy ending, suitable bedtime reading. It's also dedicated to those readers who will be belly laughing outside my hearing, behind their screens. I love them all---I think.

An announcement came to Slate's inbox: Book signing for Mark Folse's new book, Carry Me Home, at the Maple Leaf Bookstore. Proud of her friend, she ris-vipped, put it on her calendar and there it sat until the day before it was to take place. Slate then, being a good old geek, enters "Maple Leaf Books" in the Google map section of her computer screen and miraculously little icons appear showing the locations of not only Maple Leaf Books, but Octavia and three others. She confidently clicks on the correct icon and voila, a map appears in short order.

"Cool," she thinks. "I can take my bike! It's just down Rampart to Canal, then a right and I'll be there. No problem."

Something strikes her as strange. The location mapped before her would put her directly behind St. Louis Cemetery #2, three blocks from the Iberville Projects.

"Hmmm," she thinks. "Perhaps that isn't right. After all I've been in and around that area a lot and never saw a bookstore there."

Pondering for a moment, she decides to call the above mentioned Mr. Folse who, upon hearing the directions, laughs out loud then says the directions are wrong. He kindly points the seriously downtown impaired woman in the right direction, giving her a street address for the book signing and some suggestions as to how best to get there. No, the bike won't do it. It's gonna have to be the car. It's not that she's NEVER been uptown, but most of the times she's ventured there it was recon after Katrina or some medical lab to find out how many places her husband's bones were broken in. And she doesn't want to take the freeway as the only way she's ever found her way around cities was by using surface streets, once a street was seen she knew where she was when she saw it again.

She'd been to the zoo, the lake, the yacht club. She'd occasionally been to friends' homes but it had almost always been with another friend driving who knew the way. Not a problem. Slate was anything but faint of heart.

Confidently walking out her door, Slate got into her car and headed for Claiborne. There was some activity there blocking her way, maybe an accident, she never did find out, so she cut back down to the go through the Quarter to St. Charles since the map showed that she could surely get there via that broad and beautiful avenue.

Slate, however, had completely forgotten that it was a Mardi Gras parade day. After fighting her way down Dauphine, past all the people in line at Port of Call, she heads down (up?) toward Canal. The tourists are out in force, obviously believing mistakenly that the PT Cruiser is a spaceship made of some sort of malleable plasma to which their bodies will be impervious. It takes her 30 minutes to traverse the short blocks of the Quarter, make the left to Royal, a right on Royal and . . . .

"Oh my god, it's a parade day!" she says to herself noting police barricades already up at the Canal/St. Charles/Royal intersection. Bravely crossing Canal onto St. Charles, she curses WWOZ for betraying her in her time of need by playing a lot of Spanish music that she's not crazy about rather than something that will keep her trucking along into the foreign territory that is Uptown.

All the way up St. Charles people are already camped out for the parade that won't start for a couple more hours. Tents, ladders by the dozen, lawn chairs, coolers full of beer are all she sees on both sides of the street and along the neutral ground. Trucks stop with no warning in front of her, dropping off more furnishings for their outside parlors. Cars in front of her do the same, hailing an old friend off the neutral ground in order to carry on an extended conversation regarding logistics as she waits impatiently but curiously behind them.

Every corner has a vendor of wonderful food, port-o-lets painted as faces with big 3-D noses attached to their doors sit in the bed of a truck as the truck's owner contemplates how many dollars he'll make in the next two weeks. Stacks of bleachers line the stately avenue waiting to be filled up with shouting people, arms in the air. It's already nearly impassable, no parking signs deterring parking but not the never-ending stop and drops.

"Hey, so THAT is Fat Harry's," she remarks to herself seeing the green awning that she's never noticed before. She knows she's been out this far before but never paid attention much. Now she was on a deadline and it was a Mardi Gras weekend. The Spanish music kept up, words that sounded like Spanish, as they certainly weren't English words her mother had taught her poured out of her mouth.

"Cherokee. Turn right then left. I did it!" Slate says, patting herself on the back for finding a parking place just steps from her destination.

Upon her arrival, her friends from the blogosphere hear her tale of woe, and laugh or look amazed that she's never been here before. She has a wonderful time, eats King Cake, enjoys her Uptown friends, ogles books, gets directions to go home.

One of her friends, a Doctor so she can absolutely be trusted, tells her to go to Carrollton then to Broad to Esplanade. Slate has to ask which way Carrollton is.

"Just go straight and make a right. It's the big street," they tell her. She waited but they didn't tell her to look both ways before she crossed. That was kind of them.

Slate dutifully climbs into her car, goes to Carrollton, makes the right as she was told. Then she notices the Bed and Breakfast she stayed at on her first visit to New Orleans more than 15 years ago. She parks her car, gets out and takes a few photos. The house is now a private home, looks wonderful, she guesses the crazy woman who owned it must have passed on.

Back into the car, full of confidence and pride, she goes forth, homeward bound.

"Claiborne! Oh hell, I know where I am now," she says, grinning widely as she makes a right.

Driving down Claiborne she notices how wide it is, not like the part near her home. She's been told that at one time, all of Claiborne was a tree lined boulevard. Here she can believe it. At the Louisiana Street intersection, she notes a demographic difference, almost like a weird invisible line. The color and number of people at the bus stops change. She sees other cross streets she knows and thinks how wonderful it is that she might now have an alternate way of getting to her doctor, and some other places she has to go now and then. She's exhilarated, channelling Marco Polo, discovering spaghetti!

She knows where she is! Could actually point in the right direction if asked where her house is! Her chest swells with pride. Then there it is. Right in front of her. A dreadful, yellow, inescapable DEAD END sign.

"But I can SEE the Superdome," she wails. "Who knew Claiborne ENDED." (Evidently the Doctor she should have trusted did, thus telling her to take Broad.)

Forced to take a right, she finds herself confronted by Magnolia Street or an unnamed left turning rampy kinda thing. She is still confident so chooses the ramp.

"OMG, I'm getting on the Bridge! I don't live on the Westbank anymore and my toll tag is out of money!" Hysterical laughter overtakes the Spanish music on OZ. She contemplates taking the Ferry home but realizes that will take her to the end of Canal, not a good idea.

She turns around, digging in her purse for a buck, cursing at the drivers who didn't SEE the gigantic TOLL TAG ONLY signs and suddenly need to move over, finds herself convulsing in laughter at her situation, and pays the lady at the booth.

Breezing along the freeway, she goes to the Claiborne Ave sign that she knows well. Finally she is in home territory: hideous overpass on the left, cemeteries on the right. She realizes suddenly what a horrid disservice to the city that overpass was. It completely cut the city in half. Her Uptown friends knew that. She just saw how awful it was. St. Louis, St. Peter, Dumaine, familiar, unlike Maple, Spruce, Oak. Turning right on Esplanade, she tools home, finding her way easily through the maze of the Marigny.

Upon arrival Slate called a friend. She told him of her adventure. They laughed that she was the only one who could conceivably go from the Maple Street to the Marigny via the Westbank. They discussed maybe taking a trip to Gentilly one day, but he'd drive so they didn't go via Mandeville.

Moral of the story: Either take a cab or listen to the Doctor.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Buffa's Crime Meeting w/Riley et al 1.31.09

Here's what I typed up as fast as I could. Some is surely missing and/or paraphrased. I'll upload the photos as soon as possible. Today is busy for me so it might not be til tomorrow.

Some officer's names are not recorded here, the names went by too fast. I do know that Major E.C. Hosli, Major Bernadine Kelly and Chief Kirk Bouyelas were in attendance as well as the French Quarter Quality of Life Officer whose name is (I think) included in my notes. Supt. Warren Riley also attended, as did Councilmen Fielkow and Carter.

The one line comments at the bottom of these notes were statements made by the attendees as the meeting broke up.

The Lower Quarter folks sent out a great email with phone numbers, other contact information, and more names. Please check that email for those numbers.

Also check the website to sign up for txt msg based crime alerts. Detailed sign up instructions can be found there.

Below are the notes, such as they are. Typos have not been edited, sorry about that:
January 31, 2009

Buffa's Crime Meeting 2
Lower Quarter Citizens

12:05 PM Fielkow arrives
News teams coming in

Roger Jones Local Cop/Quality of Life Officer Vieux Carre
Three NOPD: Hosli

Camille Burgin welcomes the NOPD
“We welcome you. We have had no burglaries or armed robberies in two weeks. We like the foot patrols.”

Google Group:
KW explains listserv and asks for participation, talks about bicycle safety escort program.

Four black faces, two are police.

“Quarter is the economic engine that drives this city, we're the shopowners, the bartenders. We're the ones who welcome the tourists and we're also the ones walking home at 2AM after a 14 hour shift. We drive the city. We have to work together. I think we can do that and make it work. We have seen a great improvement.

Streetlights: We've sent a letter to Mr. James Carter. Robinson Industries is the subcontractor. By Feb 24 all Quarter streetlights should be working. If you see one out send info to Fielkow, Carter and Robinson Industries.

If you have lights at your house, TURN THEM ON.

If you have an elderly neighbor, and they can't change their lights, help them.

Aud: I have a ladder.

CB: We're a small town, we have to know each other.

Aud: If you see a shop whose lights are out let them know.

We need neighbors to shop in our neighborhood to keep the Quarter going,.
We have to help each other to stay open.

Block Monitors: Like hall monitors, we're seeking volunteers (KW speaking) to do citizen patrols on a monthly basis, as well as people to just keep track of their block. I will put together info and send it out as an email blast.

Julie: We originally wanted a big group organized but found that difficult so instead we decided to do it block by block, like crimewatch. Open shutters, watch for lights out. Whatever anyone can do on their own. We're trying to decide if we want weekly meetings, social. Chasing people off the stoops, but sitting on stoops, knowing who's out of town.

Aud: The cops can't stop someone who just looks suspicious but we can call and report someone that looks suspicious. Each local little area. At our house keep our windows open, people know we're there.

Think back to our neighborhood, where every little old lady knew what was going on. That's the kind of talent you guys have. This is your neighborhood. We can come and police it, but you know who lives here. That's the difference. We will do everything we can on our part, but as the gentleman said you guys watch too.

What I say to you is don't call if there's nothing there or our patrol cars will be out there for nothing. If the hair crawls up your back, don't walk into it, CALL. If you have a problem w/the 911 system, you've got to let us know. Send me an email. Get the operator number and put it in the email. You guys will say, I called and no one came. I'll send that info to the research div and they'll look into it. You gotta help me. To make it right, I gotta know where to start.

Task force units work from 8-4 at night. They work a little differently.

Aud: We tend to get complacent, lights again and how often do we want to meet.

If you have camera systems, we've asked before to get that information. If I had that info going into it, it helps me out.

Aud: Internet cameras? 10 bucks a piece.

If the cameras can send info to computers, it doesn't take a lot to make it work and it will help.

Aud: Years ago cops knew the business owners, the bar owners, a more personal relationship. It seems that if I recognize you, and I know your name, I know you and you know me, and I can say I need help. . . . .

Without getting arrested (someone else said)

We find ourselves going from call to call.

Aud: I can't remember the last time I've seen an officer on foot.

They walk an hour on foot every shift. It's been for about the last year.
We have designated Bourbon, Chartres, Royal, Decatur, French Market walking beats, with patrol car designated to that assigned area. What's happening now is we're not allowing those cars to come out of their area unless it's an emergency.

Aud: We want to know who the officers are, and be their BFF's. We don't know who they are. But was on the corner of Dauphine, never saw one walking. Saw two cars, but not walking.,

That officer is required to get out of the car for one hour and walk around and get to know you. There's lots of information there if we say hello.

Aud: We see the police patrols, I've seen your guys and we appreciate that. As long as we're seeing your presence we feel better about opening up our doors and windows.

There are two things going on, leave lights on. The bad guys will go to another block. Sometimes my officers are out there with their hoodies on blending in, trying to see who's buying drugs, etc. Right now they're working nights. Task force 8PM to 4AM.

Aud: How many actual cops, actual bodies are floating around.

HOSLI: We got new officers, six are still in training. One car min, CBD, Ramp Corridor, Triangle, per shift. We also have paddy wagon. We found we were making arrests every 20 min. We found that that takes officers off the street, so now the prisoner wagon comes to them, they do their paperwork and the wagon takes the guy to lockup. By doing that the officer can stay in that area.
Aud: Some people don't like all the lights, but people will turn around if they see those lights on the patrol cars.

I think something's happening that might not be happening. The patrol car cannot leave the area without contacting the supervisor.

Aud: Shopkeeper, my entire family is all on one corner all day, I want them to know who the local officer is, so they know you.

People are having problems with officers walking and not saying hello. We have a partnership with Harrah's Casino now. We're putting together a program to train our policemen in customer service. Harrah's (Hiegland?) knows how to deal with everything, our officers need that training. Some of our officers have trouble with customer relations. We hope that that program will address the problems of officers walking the beat and not relating to the people in the neighborhood.

Aud: Do the officers in the 8th Dist—is there a high turnover? Seems like I just get to meet them and they're gone.

Yeah sometimes. We lose them to other agencies.

Aud: Night of Wendy's murder, the suspects were sitting on our neighbor's stoop. If your officers had seen them could they have asked them move them on or do we have to call and complain before you can act.

Aud: You can ask them to leave it's your property. I walk down the street every night, I”ve never had a patrol car asking me “how ya doing tonight.”

WE have more officers coming on board, and the scooters work. They operate on Jackson Square, Dauphine, other areas. I like it because they're closer to the street, they're out of their cars, they hear more, they see more. Unfortunately we had one crash this week so he'll be out for a while.

Aud: If you see someone just sitting there, say “hi, how you guys doing” and it just let's them know that someone's watching them, but you don't have to profile to do that.

HOSLI: My task force guys, have been told if you see them sitting on a step, ask them who they are and do they belong there. If it's where I need to be, I won't mind being asked what I”m doing there.

Quality of Life Officer:
Basically I deal w/nuisance complaints, graffiti, abandoned vehicles, broken windows. If you have issues like that I'm the person to call.

HOSLI: Saw them putting up a light on St. Louis and Royal. New pole new light.

Aud: new lights make a difference.

KW: We have a couple more questions, then the officers will address us.

Aud: Do we have a curfew. (Yes)
Do we have truant officers? (Yes)

We do deal with truants.

Aud: My husb comes in before dawn and go out at that time. It should be brought up to Nagin that I see more SDT than I see NOPD. I see an officer a week, maybe. I'm on Decatur St.

Aud: What's the deal w/city cameras. My house is surrounded. (Black man) St. Claude and St. Bernard, heavy drugs. I put up cameras. I can't call you cuz they're gonna hurt ME.

OFFICER: I'm not sure if those cameras are working but I”ll call that district and find out. What's the name of that club?

Aud: Sidney's Saloon.

We want to thank NOPD for our added patrols, we are grateful. We want you to know that we're not against each other. We want to work together.

We added 16-17 officers to the Quarter, we continue to add to the Quarter, but we want it to be the safest tourist area in the country. Because any incident in the Quarter goes national and international. I get emails asking me “should I come to New Orleans.” I hate getting those. We strategically put a plan in place, increased visibility on Bourbon, Decatur, Royal. We have cars on Canal and in the Warehouse dist. Not only on St. Ann but walking patrols Bourbon to Rampart. We have two cars St. Ann to Esplanade. Another patrol car from Esplanade to Elysian Fields.

There were some officers who were not doing their jobs. Those two supervisors are no longer part of the 8th district. Two new lieutenants have been brought in. We also know where every car is patrolling. From our end, if we put something in place, we expect it to be carried out. If it's not being carried out, and some weren't, we removed them. Every 40 min an arrest in the Quarter. Paddy wagon helps so the officer no longer leave the Quarter, only the paddy wagon team. So those people who get arrested have to sit a while in the back of a paddy wagon, it's not a good experience. That is working very well for us.

There are other officers who are in plain clothes. Some of those undercover teams are still working in the Quarter. We have increased significantly the number of officers in the Quarter. We have several new officers training now, you'll get some more officers in April. Some National Guard have joined us. They've been working here in NOLA for at least a year. You'll probably bounce to 145, we might get 150. Officers coming from around the state and country to join NOPD so as we get additional people we can get to 150. Once we reach 150, we will be able to up the foot patrols. Some officers have to be in cars for quicker emergency response but once the numbers go up, you'll see more foot patrols.

James Carter is here now.

Aud: Do we own the skytower cameras that we use during Mardi Gras. Why can't we use them the rest of the year?

RILEY: Yes we own them.

It's a good idea, but the people who work those skywatch cameras, we need civilian techs and officers, we don't have the money. But we do bring them out for special events, but we can't afford overtime pay to keep them there all the time.

What can we do to help you do your jobs more efficiently.

We've gone to the state and asked for more officers. We can't have volunteers without them going through training.

2 cars, which could be 2-3, sometimes 4 officers. The majority of the time you'll have two officers per car. That does not include our task force people, you have plainclothes, some nights you're going to have 7-8 officers in an area if we notice a trend. We know by 8AM every morning if we know that we need to shift resources to a particular area. It used to be adjusted weekly, now it's done daily.

Jeff/Buffa's: re:Training from Harrah's. I've had incidents where I called and was treated like a criminal.

RILEY: Some of the old time officers are just not gonna get it. Harrah's is trying to get our officers to understand that the citizens of NOLA are our customers and we have to treat them with respect. Some officers do have a police against the citizen mentality. We're trying very hard to change that.

Aud: If we have to argue to get a case number

RILEY: Report that officer, give us the area and time, we'll know which officer was there. If you request an item number, you should get an item number.

Aud: Can your officers please be instructed to give us a report number?

(I took a break to take photos)

RILEY: We have some officers that just won't do what they are supposed to. Hold us accountable. Hold us accountable. We get rid of those people.

In many cases, once we turn them over to lockup, the DA gets our reports. There's no reason you shouldn't get a case number. Call and ask for a supervisor.

Aud: We need to know when we should start calling! We're a laissez faire city. How long before we should start complaining?

RILEY: You do have a responsibility to follow up. We need to sit down with you, get a small committee together to find out what you want to see on our website in order to get that information.

We need to give the citizens some insight as to what they can do.

Thanks all around. Cops and Riley still here. Also Carter and Fielkow.

Denzer: My goal is to provide you with access to crime info within 24-48 hours. What I want to point out is that there is more NOPD can be doing.

Dep Supt (?) should be commended for the email blast system. I don't view that as adequate. I was told that we couldn't have access to crime info until it was approved. We just heard Riley say they get a list of crimes every morning at 8AM. I want to know why we can't get that list too.

I was told we have to wait. If you go to the city's crime mapping website it takes up to two weeks to find out where crime has happened.

I don't want to disparage Riley, I want to work WITH him. I ran the data and the stats, and found that assault category was underreported, as well as other categories. I was told we had to wait 2-4 weeks in the interest of accuracy. I wrote Riley, what they did was eliminate that info from their crime mapping site. It looks like sabotage to keep us from knowing the truth. The icons are still there, but the description of the event.

They're getting information every morning at 8AM. We should have access to that.

Councilmember Fielkow is here as well as Councilman Carter. Two weeks ago they endorsed the NOLA/Stat policy. It's an open stat policy.

I want open records across the boards so we can identify problems and find solutions.

Andrea Garland: Text msgng alerts. NOLA crime alerts message. Every neighborhood has a group, send txt message and it's forwarded. Check website for full instructions. You sign up and are approved, then you can send msgs.

Meeting breaking up into little groups. Carter being interviewed outside.

CB: We have five Guardian Angels, we'll be talking to them for the next meeting.

We need to do regular meetings.

Big applause for Jeff.

No followup if we don't continue to meet. Once a month?

This was the first time I'd ever been heard.
The best crime meeting I've ever been to. If we don't batter Riley we get more info.