'Assume you are being filmed': Carnival 2016 to see record police surveillance, security measures

New surveillance technology and a beefed-up police presence will lead to the most security-heavy Carnival in New Orleans history this year, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

The officials said they have not received any specific, credible threats of terrorism. But hundreds of additional law enforcement officers from the FBI, State Police and surrounding parishes will help direct traffic and monitor suspicious behavior.

The FBI also has installed temporary cameras to monitor the celebration, presumably along the major parade routes and in the French Quarter, though FBI officials would not say how many or where the cameras have been placed. They also largely kept mum about how the added technology will enhance the crime cameras now in place at hundreds of area businesses and homes, citing security concerns.

“Assume that you are being filmed wherever you are and whatever you’re doing,” said Jeff Sallet, the newly appointed head of the FBI’s local office.

“We have located and mapped every single camera in and around any part of the French Quarter, the parade routes and any other critical infrastructure,” he said.

In places where there is no camera coverage, the FBI will add it, he said.

Technology being used in New Orleans for the first time will, in part, identify potential threats on social media and through other public information sources, he said.

Much of the additional security is the doing of Sallet, who, before his October arrival in New Orleans, coordinated law enforcement’s response to and investigation of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. In that attack, two terrorists set off pressure cooker bombs that killed three people and injured more than 260 others, and police used sophisticated facial recognition software, among other tools, to find the attackers.

In recent years, private camera networks have increasingly played a role in police investigations. This Carnival, police will be monitoring both existing private cameras and new federally provided cameras, Sallet said. As of August, the New Orleans Police Department’s official citywide camera registry included more than 2,500 private cameras.

One hundred FBI agents will work with local police and state troopers this year to perform “behavioral detection,” screening paradegoers for suspicious behavior, Sallet said.

Similar strategies are used to help identify possible terrorists at airports.

The FBI agents and four dozen State Police will assist New Orleans police in the first parade-heavy Carnival weekend, Jan. 29-31. The number of state troopers will swell to 170 by Fat Tuesday, Feb. 9, State Police Superintendent Col. Michael Edmonson said. This is the 37th year that state troopers have helped out the NOPD at Carnival.

The NOPD is also getting help from the Tulane University Police Department, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office, the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office and the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said.

As for the department’s own officers, those assigned to parade routes will work eight-hour shifts at a minimum, while everyone else will work 12-hour shifts starting Jan. 29.

There will be extra lighting on St. Charles Avenue and Bourbon Street.

All the extra muscle indicates a better-safe-than-sorry approach in the wake of terrorist attacks in cities such as Paris, Boston and San Bernardino, California. But Harrison insisted there is not much thus far to be worried about. “There are no credible threats for Mardi Gras at this time,” he said.

The city also will rely on residents to inform police of suspicious activity, Mayor Mitch Landrieu added.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.

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