TAMPA — A week after an exceptionally high number of people were arrested during the Gasparilla parade, a big question looms: Will police similarly cite bad behavior at the Krewe of Sant'Yago Knight Parade?
Yes. So are they expecting a ton of arrests? Probably not, although police "can adjust on the fly if we have to," said assistant police Chief Marc Hamlin.
Authorities have taken a tough stance against crime in Ybor City for years, and they say that won't change for tonight's parade. However, they also haven't had complaints from neighbors about underage drinking and public urination, as was the case for Gasparilla.
Unlike the day parade, no drinking is allowed along the night parade route. People can drink at bars and restaurants with outdoor seating but not while standing on the sidewalk.
"It's alcohol-free on the streets," said Vince Pardo, manager of the city's Ybor City Development Corp. "Guavaween is the only event where the streets are wet-zoned."
Those rules apply to parade watchers as well as the estimated 6,700 parade participants, many of them krewe members. Traditionally, krewes have set up bars on their floats or alongside them. This year, they've been advised to keep beverages in opaque cups out of the public's sight.
"The big push is going to be underage drinking and then open container," said Victor Fernandez, Sant'Yago krewe parade chairman. "What goes on on the floats, goes on on the floats."
Like during Gasparilla, people caught with drinks, particularly ones in bottles and cans that can become projectiles, will be asked to pour them out. Ignoring an officer's order or getting belligerent could result in arrest.
Police arrested more than 400 people during Gasparilla, mostly for misdemeanor drinking violations. Drastically fewer are expected for the night parade, which in recent years hasn't had any major problems. Only three people were arrested last year, compared with 21 in 2008 and 28 in 2007, according to police.
In recent weeks, authorities have contacted bars and stores with package licenses and discouraged them from selling alcohol to go, especially in bottles, to people unaware of the rules.
"People come here and see a party atmosphere, and they don't know," Pardo said. "If they walk out and open it outside, they will have to pour it out."
About 200 officers will patrol the 1.2-mile parade, not including the district officers normally assigned to the area. That's the same as last year, when the route was longer and turned down Palm Avenue.
Organizers are hoping for a big turnout, which could be boosted by a lower-than-average attendance at Gasparilla because of rain. The forecast calls for daytime highs in the mid 60s and a low chance of rain.
Based on community consensus, the krewe returned the route to Seventh Avenue exclusively and pushed up the event a week to avoid Valentine's Day.