New Orleans Police released hundreds of crime camera locations throughout the following the rejection of a legal appeal in March over a public records request to keep them secret.
The Louisiana Supreme Court on March 16 refused to hear an appeal filed by New Orleans on behalf of Homeland Security Director Collin Arnold, who sought to keep the locations 400 city-operated crime cameras hidden from public view, even though they are visible from the street.
The appeal’s rejection forced the city to reveal the locations its crime cameras, which are operated and viewed by personnel on a 24-hour basis inside the Real-Time Crime Center located at 517 N. Rampart St., which were sought in a public records request filed in 2018.
Additionally, the rejection awards attorneys fees to Orleans Public Defender Laura Bixby, who filed the lawsuit and was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.
Bixby filed her records request in August 2018 seeking documents on the RTCC, including staffing numbers and a map of “publicly visible” crime cameras, which is shown below.
City officials, however, denied the portion of the request seeking the camera map, citing a public records law exemption for investigative documents and physical security information.
Bixby and the ACLU sued the city in February 2019, eventually winning an appeal at Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in December of that year.
The city’s refusal to release crime camera locations echoed a concern by the Office of Independent Police Monitor in a letter to Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell shortly after the RTCC was completed in November 2017.
The RTCC and cameras were part of a $40 million Citywide Public Safety Improvement Plan unveiled by then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu in January 2017. The plan included the deployment of other surveillance technology, such as automatic license plate readers and a computer-assisted dispatch center.
It replaced a camera system similar to one initiated by Ray Nagin in the early 2000s, except many cameras didn’t work and the project was mismanaged, ultimately becoming a boondoggle for the convicted former mayor and cost taxpayers an estimated $13 million, according to WWL-TV.
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In the OIPM’s letter, which was issued on Nov. 28, 2017, Cantrell was warned of the risks to privacy abuse surrounding the retention of camera images.
“The retention of images and data may increase the likelihood of misuse and improper release whether from hackers, surveillance personnel, or police officers anxious to gather evidence,” wrote Susan Hutson of the OIPM. “Retaining images increases the likelihood of violating our 4th Amendment rights to privacy through the practice of ‘tracking’ citizen’s movements and identity.
“Additionally, Louisiana’s fairly permissive public records law may present a challenge to the city, if and when members of the public and the press wish to obtain such data.”
The map published on the city’s website, which can be viewed here, shows 32 crime cameras located in the French Quarter and its outskirts, with most of them concentrated along the 100 to 900 blocks of Bourbon Street.
Crime cameras flash blue and red lights and have the NOPD logo on them.
Images and data retained by the camera system are used by New Orleans Police for investigative purposes and regularly included in press releases issued by the NOPD.