Sidney Torres IV, a controversial New Orleans real estate developer and star of the CNBC real estate reality show The Deed, says he’s now funding an operation to combat “aggressive panhandling” in New Orleans’s historic French Quarter.
“The obstructing of resident’s [sic] walkways, an driveways, as well as public urination has plagued our neighborhood for too long,” he wrote in an Instagram post on Wednesday. An accompanying 30-second video highlighting the crackdown also appeared on local television this week.
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I’m excited to announce that I will be funding operation clean up our neighborhood for the next two months to deal with the aggressive panhandling in the French quarter and Frenchmen Street. The aggressive panhandler situation in the French Quarter has gotten out of hand. The obstructing of resident’s walkways, and driveways, as well as public urination has plagued our neighborhood for too long. That’s why the FQ Task Force, Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, The SPCA, and the DDD have partnered to take a stand against aggressive panhandlers in the French Quarter. The App works best when we work together, help us stop this problem that has been going on too long. #Fqtf #Frenchquartertaskforce #Payitforward
Torres previously received national attention for founding and initially funding the French Quarter Task Force, which sends off-duty New Orleans Police Department officers to patrol the tourist-friendly area, often in Smart cars. The Task Force also maintains a smartphone app where people can report crime.
Todays anti-aggressive solicitation sweep was a huge success!!All agencies today were there promptly and quickly became part of 1 team. I watched them at one location and they were very professional. I really appreciated the help! Nice to see NOPD, FQ Task Force, SPCA and Sheriff Marlin Gusman team working together – as a city we need more of that. #Fqtf #FrenchQuarterTasksForce #Teamwork
Posted by Keep the French Quarter Safe on Wednesday, October 31, 2018
The Task Force has raised questions about the blending of public and private policing, and how resources are directed to certain areas of the city, and it’s likely that the Torres-backed vagrancy crackdown will do the same.
While Torres has said a friend was recently punched in an altercation with a panhandler, many interviewed on a recent broadcast by WVUE, the city’s FOX affiliate, about the crackdown, said the majority of the homeless people who congregate in the French Quarter are generally harmless.
The city faces an affordable housing shortage as rents rise and long-term rentals are converted for short-term rental on platforms like Airbnb, and its warm weather and vibrant cultural scene have also long made it an attractive destination for transient people from elsewhere in the country.
In a sweep this week, 15 people were arrested on charges relating to blocking streets and sidewalks, said Andy Cunningham, the New Orleans Police Department communications director. Three knives were also taken by police, though nobody was charged in relation to the blades. One person was also charged with marijuana possession.
Dogs belonging to arrested people were also taken into custody by the Louisiana SPCA, which says the people arrested can pick their pets up when when they’re released.
The sweep wasn’t the first in New Orleans history: Cunningham said similar crackdowns have taken place in previous years. He declined to comment on what Torres is contributing, referring questions to the real estate developer.
“As far as what Sidney’s doing, you’d have to talk to him about what he’s funding and what he plans to do,” he said.
Torres’s company didn’t respond to an inquiry from Fast Company.
In a 2015 profile of Torres for the New York Times Magazine, David Amsden noted the growing trend of private-public partnerships in policing, including private security guards, university police departments, and hundreds of partnerships between law enforcement and the private sector across the country. In one case, a three-year agreement Facebook entered into with the police in Menlo Park, California, called for the company to fund the $194,000 salary of a police officer whose job was otherwise going to be eliminated.
Last year, the social media giant proposed to expand its neighborhood police partnership to include six officers, the Times reported in March, but the plan has received pushback in the community.