'Person of interest’ sought in Bourbon St. shooting

A city waiting for answers about the latest burst of violence along its most famous tourist corridor got few of them Monday.

The men who sprayed 10 people with gunfire on Bourbon Street early Sunday morning remained unidentified and on the loose, their motives still unknown.

Late Monday afternoon, the city released grainy footage showing a “person of interest” in the shooting and asked residents for help in identifying the man pictured, but did not say that he was necessarily a suspect.

Meanwhile, details released by the New Orleans Police Department provided only the barest portrait of the victims involved, none of whom has been identified by name.

Also late in the afternoon, police raised the toll of those shot Sunday to 10, saying a victim arrived at the 1st District police station around 2:30 p.m. Sunday with a minor wound to his chest. He refused treatment for it.

In all, said Officer Frank Robertson, an NOPD spokesman, six women and four men were shot, ranging in age from 17 to 39.

Five of the victims were still undergoing treatment at Interim LSU Hospital on Monday, with one still listed in critical condition and the others stable.

Even with details still scarce, however, it seemed clear already that Sunday’s shooting would intensify debate over how to confront violence in a city where the murder rate has been falling but gun violence remains endemic.

It came as another unfathomable episode in which the shooters seemed indifferent to where their bullets might land, even though the gunfire appeared to have been set off by a dispute between two individuals.

Little more than a year ago, residents were left contemplating a similar scenario, wondering why someone targeting a rival gang member would shoot indiscriminately into a Mother’s Day second-line parade, injuring 20.

Sunday’s shooting also arrived in the middle of a debate over how to boost the number of cops on the streets of New Orleans, with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration struggling to fill recruitment classes and replenish a shrinking police force.

Nadine Ramsey, the city councilwoman who represents the French Quarter and adjacent neighborhoods, was the first to raise questions about the number of NOPD officers in connection with the latest shooting.

“It is abundantly clear to me that there are not enough police officers in the downtown area to keep residents and visitors safe,” she said in a statement Sunday evening, calling on Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas and the city’s independent police monitor, Susan Hutson, to provide an audit showing the number of officers on duty.

“The public has a right to know how many officers are really on duty to protect their safety,” she said.

With details still sketchy, it was not clear Monday whether a heavier police presence might have made a difference. In his news conference after the shooting, Serpas called police staffing in the Quarter at the time of the shooting strong and said officers responded quickly to the scene, although the city did not immediately reply to a request for manpower data from the weekend.

Still, the subject of how to expand the police force has been the subject of controversy lately. In a report last month, Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s office questioned whether the NOPD needs more uniformed officers at all, suggesting the department should hire more civilians for “non-law enforcement duties” in order to have more officers available for responding to calls.

Serpas and Landrieu rejected the advice, arguing that officers need to be available for so-called “community policing,” including work in the homicide, gang and domestic violence units.

However the city manages to do it, many residents clearly want a more visible force.

Meg Lousteau, executive director of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates organization, said many French Quarter residents have done all they can to prevent crime on their own and even to help in solving it, installing cameras and extra lighting.

“At a certain point, we need the help of the professionals,” she said, arguing that slack attention to more everyday crimes and infractions is creating a more chaotic environment in the city’s oldest neighborhood.

“A lack of enforcement of basics in the Quarter, whether on purpose or by accident, results in this Wild West, anything-goes tone.”

Staff writers Danny Monteverde and John Simerman contributed to this report.