NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - People who spend time in the French Quarter will tell you they've noticed a more aggressive panhandlers on the street. And they say that's not the only nuisance.
"Aggressive panhandling has been on the increase, and people camping out in front of businesses has been on the increase," says Sidney Arroyo.
After steady complaints from the public, local businessman and resident Sidney Torres stepped up to bankroll a policing effort to stop it.
"These are aggressive panhandlers. These are not homeless people. These are people who are aggressive panhandlers who come up and ask you for money, and they don't take no for an answer," says Torres.
Torres is funding a French Quarter Task Force that allows NOPD officers working a detail to patrol the area on a Polaris vehicle. Members of that task force recently conducted a sweep through the French Quarter looking for nuisance violations.
"We were able to address these nuisance violations that we constantly get. We just haven't been able to focus our attention on them. We did arrest 22 people with 28 charges of violations," says Eighth District NOPD Commander Jeffrey Walls.
Walls says the NOPD hadn't been able to focus a lot of attention on the nuisance violations in the past simply because officers would have to be tied up for hours on one call.
Torres points out that the violators know how to work the system.
"What they do is have these dogs that are with them. They use them to not have to go to jail, and then when they get to jail, they say they have diabetes or other medical issues because they know that the jail may not be staffed at a certain time to handle it," says Torres.
Because of that, Torres decided to provide funding for the SPCA to be on hand, ready to take animals during the sweep. He's also paying to have medical professionals at the jail, preventing those arrested from having to go to a hospital first. On top of all of this, Torres says he's donating about $300,000 to pay for detail officers and to buy Polaris vehicles, fuel and advertising for a new crime-fighting app.
The smart phone app lets people report crime and even send photos to the NOPD and State Police in real time. The app is already deemed a success with 1,600 downloads in the past few days.
The NOPD says it's a coordinated effort that has allowed the department to free up other officers to fight crime across the Eighth District.
Torres says he's doing it all simply because he loves New Orleans.
"I feel very blessed that the city of New Orleans helped me grow my business and expand throughout the state. I believe you have to give back to the places that give to you," says Torres.