Published 9:20 am Friday, February 8, 2013
Keeping paradegoers safe as the Krewe of MCCA rolls through the streets of Bogalusa is a major undertaking, one Police Chief Joe Culpepper said involves the cooperation of numerous agencies.
The planning for carnival season begins with a mass meeting of department heads, held at the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, Culpepper said. There, each agency decides how many personnel members it will be sending to each parade.
Officers from Bogalusa assist at events including parades in St. Tammany Parish, the Madisonville Boat Festival and the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, and, in return, people from other departments come to the Magic City to help with MCCA. Culpepper said it is as if nearly his entire department is on overtime twice, on parade day and when he sends officers to work other parades.
“It takes a lot of effort and hard work on the part of the policemen involved to give up their time to go work these other parades in order for us to get the help we need from these other outside agencies,” he said.
The number of officers an agency sends is dependent upon its financial abilities, since it is paying its staff to work a parade in another location, Culpepper said. The Bogalusa Police Department usually sends three or four officers to work other parades, because that is what manpower will allow. On the other hand, the much larger St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office, for example, has the resources to send more officers, he said.
Culpepper said 101 outside officers will be assisting in Bogalusa on MCCA day, coming from agencies such as Rayburn Correctional Center, the Washington Parish and St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s offices and the Mandeville, Slidell, Pearl River, Covington, Ponchatoula and Madisonville police departments. That number of officers is about the norm for the Bogalusa parade, he said.
Police command centers are posted strategically along the parade route. Therefore, Culpepper said, if police need to make an arrest due to a fight or any other incident, the suspect can be walked over to a van where he or she will be booked into until the parade passes.
“Then we can actually get to the jail to book them in over there,” he said.
During the parade, the route is broken down into four districts, Culpepper said. The placement of officers is also strategic. He said some officers are assigned to move to a secondary position once the parade passes their primary position.
As far as safety for parade attendees, Culpepper’s main message is that people need to keep a close watch on their children since they will often try to chase throws such as bouncy balls or beads.
“No child’s life is worth a pair of beads,” he said.
Additionally, Culpepper said that if people get drunk and behave in a way they shouldn’t, they will probably be going to jail. Crowding a float or trying to jump up on one is prohibited, too.
“That’s just not acceptable behavior,” he said.
A prime example of unacceptable behavior can be seen at the barricades on Superior Avenue. Culpepper said people try to get around the barricades to pick up stray pairs of beads and allow their children to do the same. This creates a dangerous situation because a tractor driver’s vision is typically obscured between the tractor and the front of the float he or she is pulling.
The floats are “incredibly heavy,” usually about 5 or 6 tons, and are difficult to stop, Culpepper said.
“Once you get that thing rolling you can’t just stop it on a dime,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of weight pushing you trying to stop that thing, so if a kid darts out, it’s tough to stop.”
When a driver has to stop suddenly there is also the concern of being sure the riders aren’t thrown off, Culpepper said. Paradegoers, he said, need to stay behind the barricades and watch the festivities from a safe distance.
“We just want everybody to have a safe and enjoyable Mardi Gras,” he concluded.