NEW PORT RICHEY — All those beads make the parade crowds go wild — maybe too wild, city officials say.
Children climb over the barricades, and grown-ups climb over the children, just to scoop up beads coming from parade participants.
"The behavior of the crowd has become aggressive," said New Port Richey police Chief Martin Rickus.
"All you see today," said council member Bob Consalvo, "is beads, beads, beads."
Less than three weeks before the annual Chasco Fiesta parade, officials discussed Tuesday evening whether to change city policies — including a possible ban on throwing beads into the crowd — for upcoming parades in the city.
Even City Council members acknowledged they've been guilty of tossing beads or candy while riding on city floats in recent years. Police say that dignitaries, including elected officials, riding in vehicles also toss things to the crowds.
"If you don't throw something, they (crowd members) become crude and rude," said council member Marilynn deChant. "Where's the fun?"
City staff members are supposed to come up with some ideas and submit them to the council at a later date. This year's Chasco parade wouldn't be affected, but future parades, starting with the Christmas one, would.
The discussion was held in light of last year's death of a 9-year-old boy at a Christmas parade in Plant City. The child, Jordan Hays, was walking the parade route and reaching for candy to throw to the crowd when his foot was caught by a float's wheels and he was dragged underneath.
In response to that tragedy, Plant City commissioners earlier this year banned throwing beads and candies in parades in the city.
Chasco Fiesta Executive Director Wendy Brenner said organizers already prohibit parade participants from throwing objects from the floats. That prohibition is spelled out in parade applications, she said, and most of the krewes abide by that policy. Tampa krewes even take classes on the proper way to hand out beads during parades. (DeChant said she had never heard about that prohibition until Brenner discussed it Tuesday.)
Still, the ban can be difficult to enforce, given the limited number of police officers and parade marshals.
Throwing candy to the crowd has long been a parade tradition for the Chasco event, which was first held in 1922. Throwing beads is a newer tradition that started around the mid '90s, when the larger Tampa krewes began to join the New Port Richey parade, Brenner said.
As the crowds have gotten bigger, the rush for beads has become more frenzied, say city officials.
Even though Chasco organizers try to prevent parade floats from tossing objects to the crowd, they don't mind parade participants who walk along the 11/2-mile route to hand candy and beads to the crowd. Brenner said she hopes any new city policy takes that into account.
"It's something people look forward to," she said.
This wouldn't be the first time the city's tried to take a harder line on controlling some aspects of the parades and festivities. Back in 2000, the city banned water balloons and high pressure water guns in the Chasco Boat Parade. The volleying of aquatic missiles had become somewhat of a tradition — until people kept getting hit in the face. (Retired Tampa Bay Bucs fullback Mike Alstott will be grand marshal at this year's boat parade.)
The police chief said the nighttime Christmas parade, which is made up mostly of local organizations, is actually more dangerous than the Chasco parade. He suggested the council look hard at taking some new safety measures.
One suggestion: Putting up exit points along the parade route. If a police officer or parade marshal sees someone pelting the crowd with beads, he said, "You exit the parade, never to return."
Deputy Mayor Ginny Miller suggested making sure nothing is thrown from the float of one organization in particular: the city.
"It's got to change," Miller said after the meeting. "Where better to start than with the city float?"
Jodie Tillman can be reached at
[email protected] or (727) 869-6247.