Controversial surveillance program installed in 2 New Orleans bars

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A surveillance program finds its way into two New Orleans bars, despite city leaders backing down from a controversial ordinance.

There are dozens of crime cameras scattered across the city, and they which are tied to the city's 24 hour system monitored by New Orleans police officers in real time in an effort to deter crime.

In addition to those cameras, city leaders wanted to require bars and restaurants to give officers access to their surveillance cameras as a stipulation to get a liquor license.

But after push-back from several organizations, City Council members and Mayor Mitch Landrieu backed down.

One of those groups, the Congress of Day Laborers, celebrated the victory Wednesday night by smashing a camera piñata, but members believe after a move by the city, their victory is short-lived.

"They are trying to find newer ways to do it anyways, so that doesn't really make us count on the government to do the things they said they were going to do," member Jaysi Guillen said.

Tuesday, the city entered into a consent judgment with two bars facing violations with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The agreement between both the city and the business owners allowed the companies to keep their liquor license if they allowed the crime monitoring center access to their surveillance cameras.

A spokesperson with the mayor's office said the city entered into this agreement for public safety. Both bars, Chuck's and The Hangover, have been the scene of shootings in the past year. In one instance, four people were shot outside The Hangover in September.

But opponents of the cameras fear the agreement creates a dangerous precedent.

"I'm worried about a situation where someone could call in a noise complaint, and it could end up meaning they get judgment and they've got to install these surveillance cameras which then could put all patrons of that venue and all musicians that simply play there under surveillance to go get a drink or do their job," said Ethan Ellestad with the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans.

Many people against the business cameras being tied into the Real Time Crime Center believe it's just another way for the city to get access and use liquor licenses as leverage.

"The city is saying we're not going to allow you to sell alcohol if you don't put the camera in your bar. [Owners] have to do it because it's their business. It's how they make money," Guillen said.

"If there is an issue, then we need to deal with it. Surveillance is not a substitute for crime prevention or public safety. It's simply after the fact, and that's an issue," Ellestad said.

The businesses now under the agreement could have denied the city's proposal and appealed the proposed agreement to the Alcohol Beverage Control Board.

A spokesman with the mayor's office said businesses have previously agreed to put cameras around their establishments, but this is the first time those cameras have been tied to the Real Time Crime Center.

He said future ABO violation agreements will be done on a case-by-case basis.

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