Then there is the French Quarter Task Force, a city-sanctioned police force comprised of off-duty cops that was created and funded entirely by a wealthy businessman named Sidney Torres.
In a recent story, The New York Times Magazine profiled Torres, a 39-year-old who made his millions as the founder of SDT Waste & Debris Services, a sanitation company that cleaned up much of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
A 2008 Forbes article pointed out that Torres’ trash operation had netted $US30 million in revenue in 2007, employed 130 people, and had 65,000 commercial and residential customers.
His penchant for sanitation had won him nicknames like “the trash king” and “trashanova” because of his good looks. In 2011, he cashed out of the trash business, selling his company and starting his own capital investment firm.
In April Torres sunk $US380,000 of his own fortune into funding another city service: a two-month pilot program for a private police force to patrol the 78 city blocks of New Orleans’ wealthy French Quarter.
”Basically, I’m handling crime the same way I did trash,” Torres told New York Times Magazine. ”It’s about seeing a need — an unfortunate need — and stepping up to fill it.” In the profile, Torres likens himself to fictional crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne.
On the website for his capital investment firm IV Capital, Torres refers to himself as a “serial entrepreneur” and says he “likes to do things others say are impossible.” He claims to have developed over $US250 million in commercial and residential real estate in the last 15 years, including a resort in the Bahamas and three New Orleans hotels.
Torres created the French Quarter Task Force in April after New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu responded to his gripes about the rising crime rate by telling him to put his money where his mouth was. So Torres invested in a fleet of GPS-equipped Polaris Rangers (which the New York Times Magazine describes as “militarised golf carts”) and a special app that allows residents to summon the Task Force and view where they are on a map in real time.
From April to June, some 50 off-duty cops got paid $US50 dollars an hour to patrol the French Quarter at all hours of the day.
“The FQ Task Force app works by crowdsourcing information about crimes in progress and suspicious activity, and then equips rapid-response teams with the latest GPS technology,” Torres explains on his website.
By the end of the two-month trial period, Torres’ task force had been deemed a success. Crime in the French Quarter had dropped, Torres’ task force had confiscated 10 guns, and nearly 10,000 New Orleans residents had downloaded the app, according to The Times. Torres even agreed to fund the program for a third month.
”We know that it works,” Landrieu said of the task force to New York Times Magazine. ”Now it’s about looking for ways to scale it and fund it on a permanent basis.”
At the end of June, Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, did just that, putting together a plan to keep Torres’s force financed, at $US900,000 a year, for at least the next five years.
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