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It's Mardi Gras season in New Orleans and over the next few weeks, thousands of visitors will swarm the city's famous French Quarter, drinks in hand. New Orleans's most-visited neighborhood rarely sees the type of violent crime that plagues other parts of the city, but a recent spike in robberies in the French Quarter has residents demanding changes. From member station WWNO, Eve Troeh reports.
EVE TROEH, BYLINE: The French Quarter is unique, a centuries-old neighborhood that's also a major tourist attraction. In less than two square miles it combines hotels, restaurants, street performers and all-night bars with historic homes and tight-knit neighbors. Now some of the Quarter's iconic wrought-iron balconies hold new signs.
BRYAN DRUDE: And we put the sign out there - Caution. Walk in large groups. We love the N.O.P.D. We just need more.
TROEH: Resident Bryan Drude got that sign from neighbors, who printed hundreds of them after a man was stabbed and robbed on their street last month. Drude wants more police on foot to protect tourists and locals.
DRUDE: We want the people that are here now to be safe. We don't want them to get held-up or mugged or stabbed or shot. That's going to do a lot worse publicity to us than them seeing the signs.
TROEH: It's not the only public ploy to gain attention. French Quarter businessman Sidney Torres bought TV ads. His home was robbed last month then this month armed robbers attacked the bar next door to him.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Announcing) The French Quarter is under siege by criminals. The problem can be fixed. It is only 6 blocks by 13 blocks. We should hold the administration accountable for the failures of not protecting the French Quarter.
TROEH: After meeting with the mayor and the chief of police, Torres has canceled the ads. The city's run its own sort of campaign with podium speeches to highlight arrests and task forces. Introducing new police recruits, Mayor Mitch Landrieu addressed the French Quarter directly.
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: Recent upticks that have been plaguing the city have made people feel unsafe and has reinforced our need to focus our attention. It's now more important than ever to have the best people, the best training and the best equipment.
TROEH: Years of attrition have dwindled New Orleans's police force. The city has upped its recruitment budget and says applications have risen 300 percent. But it still takes a year to get recruits on the streets. The city's also starting something called NOLA Patrol. The 40 or so uniformed security guards will walk the Quarter and work with officers. Landrieu also wants more state police.
TROEH: The current crowd seems mostly undeterred. Atlanta residents Anthony Mullins and Taylor Norman roam Royal Street. Reading the Walk In Large Group signs, Mullins, who works in law enforcement, says he understands people's fears.
ANTHONY MULLINS: I could probably agree with them. I would probably want to see more police too, so, I mean as a tourist looking at it, you know, that's kind of - it is alarming.
TROEH: The couple hadn't heard about the recent crime, but say it won't change their plans. Not so for Barb Kelly. Up in Alberta, Canada she's been following French Quarter crime in the news and on travel websites. She and her husband planned a 10-day trip in March. Now they're not sure.
BARB KELLY: It's a hard decision to make because I really do want to go back and see more of New Orleans. Like, I loved it there. I really did. I thought it was, you know, it was a great experience. We have to sit down and weigh the pros and cons.
TROEH: It's the kind of calculation people who live, work and play in the French Quarter make every day right now - deciding whether to stay for the band's next set, whether to walk a few blocks or take a cab, asking who might walk with them and how much risk is too much.
For NPR News I'm Eve Troeh in New Orleans.
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