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Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans? | NY TImes


On the morning of Sunday, March 29, Sidney Torres was sipping an espresso in the kitchen of his mansion on the edge of the French Quarter when a jarring notification lit up his iPad and two iPhones. Pimps fighting with drug dealers and johns. Man has gun. Hurry. The message came from a neighbor 10 blocks away, on St. Louis Street, and was sent through a venture Torres started four days earlier: a private police patrol that could be summoned via mobile app. Torres, who made a vast fortune as the founder of SDT Waste & Debris Services, a sanitation company that cleaned up much of New Orleans in the years following Hurricane Katrina, spent $380,000 to fund the enterprise after a crime wave put Quarter residents on edge for the better part of a year. Between November and January, there were more than 60 robberies in the neighborhood, and the crimes became increasingly brazen, including a vicious stabbing and a spate of random beatings. It became a personal issue for Torres on Dec. 17, when his 8,000-square-foot home was burglarized; three weeks later, the bar next door was held up by two masked gunmen. Torres’s crowdsourcing approach to crime, conceived throughout February and March, was the impulsive byproduct of his belief that the New Orleans Police Department, which has shrunk by around 500 officers since Hurricane Katrina, was no longer able to protect even the neighborhood less than a square mile in size that contained the city’s most valuable real estate.

Seated at his kitchen table, Torres began furiously refreshing his iPad. The screen displayed a digitized map of the Quarter, a grid of 78 city blocks that, as a national historic landmark and the center of the city’s $6.7 billion tourism industry, draw upward of nine million visitors each year. A red dot represented the incident in progress on St. Louis, while a green arrow indicated a member of Torres’s squad, the French Quarter Task Force, which at all hours had three armed officers zigzagging the neighborhood in matte black Polaris Rangers that resemble militarized golf carts. When Torres, who is 39, had deployed the same vehicles in his garbage business, the decimated city became cleaner than ever. ‘‘Basically, I’m handling crime the same way I did trash,’’ said Torres, whose brooding good looks and penchant for self-promotion earned him the nickname of Trashanova before he sold his sanitation company to a national conglomerate in 2011.

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