Gasparilla crackdown aims to put an end to 'Pirates Gone Wild'

From left, Mayor Pam Iorio and James Robbins of Ye Mystic Krewe listen as Assistant Chief of Police Marc Hamlin details rising troubles at Gasparilla and plans to combat them better. 

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

From left, Mayor Pam Iorio and James Robbins of Ye Mystic Krewe listen as Assistant Chief of Police Marc Hamlin details rising troubles at Gasparilla and plans to combat them better. 

TAMPA — Leave your kegs at home during Gasparilla. Don't urinate in people's yards. And, if you're younger than 21, don't drink.

Words of wisdom from Captain Obvious?

No. Those are some of the messages city and school officials and event organizers are hammering home in the weeks leading up to Tampa's annual bacchanalia on Jan. 30.

"There's a real change in how you have to behave at Gasparilla," said Bill Gieseking, director of marketing for the event's beer sponsor, Pepin Distributing. "You must be responsible or you could end up in trouble."

Gieseking made his remarks during a news conference Tuesday to unveil a public awareness campaign dubbed "Responsibility Is the Key."

The crackdown comes after people who live near the Bayshore Boulevard parade route complained about excessively bad behavior during last year's parade. Organizers and city officials developed plans to rein in the event, which attracts as many as 350,000 people.

"It's a marquee event for our region. But we also are well aware that it needs some work," said Jim Robbins, captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. "We want people to come to Gasparilla. We want them to have a good time. But they need to remember they are part of a community, and they need to act responsibly."

To make sure that happens, the number of police officers assigned to Gasparilla will increase from 225 to 275. They will take a zero-tolerance approach to underage drinking, open containers in neighborhoods and public urination. Those who live near the route will have police officers' cell phone numbers so they can report inappropriate behavior.

"Everybody realizes that we have to do this," assistant police chief Marc Hamlin said. "The time has come."

Hamlin said he expects it will take a few years of strong law enforcement efforts before the culture of Gasparilla changes.

Last year, Tampa police arrested more than 125 people during Gasparilla festivities. In previous years, there were fewer than 90 arrests, Hamlin said.

"We stepped up enforcement last year, and it just didn't seem to be enough," he said. "Now this year it's going to be even more so."

The informational blitz will include billboards, radio announcements and signs at places where alcohol is sold.

Mayor Pam Iorio and Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia will record a phone message that will go to the parents of students.

"Our message to our young people particularly is don't go to Gasparilla to behave foolishly," Iorio said. "There will be consequences."

In addition to a greater police presence, plans call for doubling the number of portable toilets from 800 to 1,600.

To thin out crowds, the waterside reserved seating area will be limited to the area between Bay to Bay Boulevard and Howard Avenue and the parade route will extend downtown to end at the newly renovated Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

"For people who want to let loose and party, then Curtis Hixon waterfront park will be the place to do it," Iorio sad. "That way you're away from the homes. You're away from private property. You're not disturbing anyone."

Jack Wyatt, president of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, was among those who documented last year's debauchery with pictures and videos.

That got the attention of city officials and parade organizers.

"Anybody that lives down here has had bad experiences," he said. "We've been living like that for a number of years."

Wyatt believes the new approach will curb some of the problems, particularly with young people left unsupervised in neighborhoods while adults head to Bayshore for the parade.

"It can't hurt," he said. "We're not sure what the effect will be, but we just hope it will be safe, clean and everyone will have a good time."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Gasparilla crackdown aims to put an end to 'Pirates Gone Wild' 01/05/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 12:23am]

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