WARNING: Tampa leaders and Gasparilla organizers have had enough. After some outrageous behavior in neighborhoods last year — dude, that tree is not a urinal — police promise to arrest rowdy pirates who misbehave this year. No more warnings or looking the other way. But not to worry, the Gasparilla parade Saturday will still have all the beer, beads and partying that locals have come to expect. But it'll have more police, too. Here's a rundown of some changes and what to expect, according to some of the experts, Assistant Police Chief Marc Hamlin and Darrell Stefany, president of parade organizer EventFest.
What will the increased police force crack down on?
Authorities say stupidness tolerated in the past — underage drinking, public peeing, fighting and even public sex acts — could get you a free ride to the pokey this year.
Police are upping the number of officers patrolling nearby neighborhoods from 225 to 275 (not to mention the 1,100 working the parade route, Pirate Fest and other activities). Several will work undercover, checking house parties for underage drinking. Violators, as well as the party hosts, will be arrested.
Nearby residents will have officers' cell phone numbers for reporting bad behavior. People also can call the nonemergency police number at (813) 231-6130 or, of course, 911 in an emergency.
Are more arrests really likely?
Yes. Last year, Tampa police made 125 arrests, up from about 80 previously. Significantly more are expected this year. Police will focus largely on alcohol-related offenses.
Can I still drink outdoors?
You will be able to drink alcohol along the parade route but not in the neighborhoods. That means you can bring beer to the parade (no bottles, please) but can't drink it in the side streets or face arrest. Small coolers will be okay.
What about kegs in shopping carts?
Officers along neighborhood perimeters will have a chat with anyone entering the area with a keg or mega cooler. If you're taking it to a house party and haven't started drinking from it, you'll be fine. If you try to take it to the parade, you'll be asked to leave. Get belligerent, and you could be entitled to one phone call later on.
What happens if I get arrested?
Offenders will be taken in handcuffs — real metal ones, not the garbage bag zip-tie kind — to a remote holding area near the parade.
Adults who are cooperative, have ties to Hillsborough County and show positive ID will likely be released with a notice to appear in court. The rest, including anyone arrested on a felony charge, will be taken to the Orient Road Jail. Those under 18 will go to the juvenile detention center where they'll have plenty of time to think up a good story for their parents.
The whole process takes anywhere from a few hours or more, depending on how busy the police are.
Are the pee-pee police for real?
Yes. In the past, police issued warnings to people caught urinating in public. This year, they'll be arrested on a disorderly conduct charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and six months of probation. First-time offenders will be eligible to enter a three- to six-month intervention program through the Salvation Army that involves community service and fees. If completed, charges are dropped.
So where can I relieve myself?
Organizers are doubling portable toilets from 800 to 1,600. That's still only one toilet for every 156 people (based on attendance of 250,000), but it's better than before. Neighbors hope adding toilets eliminates some of the blatant peeing — and even pooping — in their yards.
Can I get busted for baring breasts for beads?
Yes. Flashers may be charged with indecent exposure and/or disorderly conduct depending on the facts of the case and whether anyone around you objected to seeing your goods. It's a little complicated, but trust us: You don't want to have to explain this arrest on a job application.
Susan Thurston can be reached at email@example.com
This article has been changed to reflect the following correction: The Gasparilla tradition is 106 years old, but the parade has not been held every year. The number of parades is incorrect in today's Weekend section, which is printed in advance. Also, the number of krewes in the parade is incorrect. There are 57.