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Like most people who are going to a new city or country, I went to the internet to do some research. I won’t quote what I saw verbatim, but needless to say, from the comments and advice I read, if I felt compelled to go to the local bakery to pick up some King Cake, I shouldn’t wear anything less than full body armor, and be armed with several AK-47’s, Machetes and Katana blades if I was to emerge with my sugary treat unscathed.
When I arrived on the ground in New Orleans, the reality was far different. But, I want to level with those people concerned about safety in the big easy.
First thing I want to get out of the way is the crime rate. It’s high. There are a lot of gun-point robberies, and a lot of murders in the largest city of Louisiana. The murder rate in New Orleans has dropped however during 2017, placing it 4th behind Detroit, Baltimore and St Louis.
Random shootings can and do happen. A short while after I left New Orleans, to come back to Australia, there was a major shoot-out in Bourbon Street that left nine people injured (see some CCTV of the incident here). And Bourbon Street is one of the most visible, highly populated streets in New Orleans. So if this kind of business happens so brazenly in the main thoroughfares, it’s not difficult to imagine what goes on in the back streets.
More recently in November 2016, another shooting took place in Bourbon Street which instigated a US$40 million public safety plan. Rolled out in January 2017, the plan has seen the installation of 50 new CCTV cameras with a further 250 cameras to come. Along with a new real time monitoring center, license plate scanners in police cars and a US$12 million road improvement to Bourbon Street. Since actioning this plan, there has been a notable increase in safety in and around Bourbon Street.
Now, we can understand that this is very, very concerning for people visiting. But should it stop you from visiting? No way.
Essentially speaking, if you get caught in a dangerous criminal situation in New Orleans it will be for two reasons.
We will be honest with you, option number one can and does happen often. There are a lot of poor people in New Orleans, which leads to desperate measures.
This is why it is important to carry few valuables on your person, and don’t make wanton, ostentatious displays that could catch the eye of a thief. (We are talking flashing expensive cameras, smartphones and jewellery). It’s also important to maintain a certain level of vigilance, and know where you are going. Do your best to avoid walking alone in dark back streets, and try not to get so drunk that you become an easy!
If you are targeted, give up your valuables or cash quickly. If you make it difficult for a thief, especially one with a gun, you bring yourself into a higher risk of being attacked. Your money and valuables can be replaced (especially if you have, your health or wellbeing is harder to repair.
For option two, unfortunately this is a case of wrong place wrong time. It’s also a pretty rare event to see open display of gang warfare in the French Quarter. There are a LOT of police around, especially during Mardi Gras. So this is not something you should concern yourself with too much. You would be VERY unlucky to get caught in gang crossfire.
New Orleans loves throwing beads around during festivals, so watch your step so you don't go sliding or at worse, break an ankle. The greater risk however, is being hit in the head by flying beads from parade vehicles.
New Orleans police deal with a lot of drunken lunatics, especially around Mardi Gras time, and especially around the French Quarter/Canal Street area. You can see the ‘I’m-not-going-to-put-up-with-any-bullshit’ looks on their faces. From what I understood during my time there, if you are acting like an anti-social asshole in any way, you will get a tap on the shoulder and get hauled out in a squad car for some time out in the lock up.
Most of the crime in New Orleans comes from the fact that its city and tourist areas are small compared to other cities. Add in thousands of visitors during celebrations like Mardi Gras and you have a haven for petty criminals.
In areas like the French Quarter, there are a number of different ways that unscrupulous scammers can help you part with your cash. Cards are accepted everywhere and sometimes encouraged to use. Should you also lose or have your card stolen, it is easier to stop and replace than cash.
The most common one, by far, is the “I know where you got them shoes” scam. Essentially, you get asked this question on the street, if you respond, they will say:
“You got them on your feet!”
They will then demand money for their genius. If you don’t give them money, things can get tetchy.
I encourage people to just sharpen up their senses when it comes to things like this. You don’t want to be closed off for chance opportunities with fellow revellers, but anything that feels like a solicitation is usually recipe for a robbery.
If you feel that, eyes forward, and walk on.
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