Private police officers outnumber their publicly funded counterparts by a three to one ratio, says the New York Times. In past decades the distinction was often clear — the rent-a-cop vs. the real cop — but today the boundary between the two has become ''messy and complex,'' said a study last year by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. A private anticrime task force created by Sidney Torres in New Orleans’ French Quarter is best understood in this context, one where the larger merging of private and public security has resulted in an extensive retooling of the nation's policing. As municipal budgets have stagnated or plummeted, state and local governments have outsourced police work to the private sector, resulting in changes that have gone largely unnoticed by the public they're tasked with protecting. A recent report by the Justice Department, which has become a prominent advocate of such collaborative efforts, identified 450 partnerships between law enforcement and the private sector. Nationwide, there are now more than 1,200 ''business improvement districts'' in which businesses pay self-imposed taxes to fund improved services, including security.
Torres's security detail was conceptualized and financed by a single individual, with government support. Staffed by off-duty New Orleans police officers in vehicles that bear the police star-and-crescent logo, the force became part of a larger initiative for public-private policing that Mitch Landrieu, the city's mayor since 2010, had been working to put in place since a shooting on Bourbon Street last summer. Criminologist Peter Scharf of the Louisiana State University School of Public Health said, ''What happened is that the residents of the Quarter, who have always had great unease with their more impoverished and sometimes violent neighbors, have realized that there is no Green Zone that will protect them from the reality of the city. Whether he meant to or not, Sidney brought up some issues that a lot of people are uncomfortable thinking about. Is the French Quarter a present-day Brooklyn Heights, or is it Bedford-Stuyvesant in the '70s?''