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Tampa police lay down the law on Gasparilla behavior to students

TAMPA — Days before Gasparilla, Tampa police Monday rolled out what they mean to be a clear message to high school students.

Enjoy the parade.

But don't drink, fight, vandalize, carry an open beer, pass a fake ID, urinate in public, smack a police horse or flash private parts of your body for beads.

"We're trying to change the culture," Officer Roy Paz told hundreds of Blake High School students at an upbeat but cautionary assembly Monday.

That means zero tolerance — and arrests — for misbehavior that police once let slide. Before, Paz told students, officers might have broken up a fight and sent the combatants on their way.

"This year's a little different," he said. "If we come up on somebody fighting, we arrest both of them."

It also means jumping on little things before they become big. Someone urinating in the street will be arrested, Paz said, because he might go on later to hurt someone in a fight.

Police analyzed where they had problems the past several years and found fewer along the parade route itself, Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin said.

So they've spread out officers and sheriff's deputies assigned to the route and put 50 more, including undercover officers, into adjacent neighborhoods.

Among the things they'll be looking for: open consumption of alcohol on public streets.

The parade route itself, which consists of Bayshore Boulevard from the water to the outside curb of the southbound lanes, is wet-zoned for the event.

Adults can purchase alcohol only from vendors on the route.

Spectators can't bring their own alcohol to drink at the parade, nor can they buy a drink at the parade and carry it out of the wet-zoned area to drink.

"Every incident obviously has its own details, but if an officer sees someone drinking an open container of alcohol in public, they should make an arrest," Hamlin said.

Last year, police made 127 arrests. Gasparilla arrests have averaged 132 a year over the last three years. But officials don't know how tougher enforcement might drive arrests this time.

"We're in a position to make a lot of arrests if we have to," Hamlin said.

Monday's visit to Blake was one of a series designed to warn nearly 15,000 people, most of them high school students, about the changes.

Police also had already visited or will go to Hillsborough, Jefferson, Plant, Robinson, Tampa Prep and Jesuit high schools.

Households with school-aged children are getting automated calls about the changes from Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

High school students, a group police want to keep out of harm's way, are not the only group getting an in-person appeal.

Officers also are speaking to an estimated 2,000 armed services members at MacDill Air Force Base and reaching out to University of Tampa students.

The new policies are being touted in public service announcements on local radio, as well as on nine digital billboards, 600 posters at local businesses and 200 signs at entry points to the event.

"The community is sick and tired of the behaviors that come on parade day … and you can't blame them because people are breaking the law," Hamlin said.

In the past, he said, "these behaviors seemed like they were tolerated" with police stepping in or making arrests only in extreme cases.

"We can't have that anymore," he said. "It's gone too far and it needs to change."

Blake High School senior Amelia Watson, 17, said she went to the Gasparilla night parade last year and had fun, but "I saw a lot of things that I had never seen before."

Watson said reaching out to students should help curb some of the problems for which the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates is notorious.

"I'm pretty sure people are going to be good if there's going to be a lot of police," she said.

And what about those who complain that all these cops will just spoil the fun?

The parade is a storied tradition and part of Tampa's heritage, Hamlin said, but police have to make sure it's safe.

"I think in the long run those people who are saying that will realize as they get into their 40s that we're just making it safer for them," he said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Zero tolerance

at Gasparilla

Tampa police say officers will arrest paradegoers for:

• Under-aged drinking.

• Carrying open containers of alcohol outside designated areas.

• Bringing kegs.

• Fighting.

• Public urination.

• Damaging property.

• Nudity or flashing for beads.

• Trespassing on private property.

Prohibited

• Coolers, unless they contain formula for infants or medicine.

• Alcohol not purchased from a parade vendor.

• Glass containers.

• Tents or fences, stakes or rope to reserve a space for parade viewing.

Tips

• Have a plan, including where to park. Parking is available in downtown and Channel District garages and lots. You also can park in an Ybor City garage and take a street car trolley or at Raymond James Stadium and take a shuttle to the parade.

• Have a preplanned meeting place if your group gets separated.

• Use the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway if possible.

• The parade route is a "wet zone," meaning adults can drink alcohol, but only if purchased from the vendors along the route.

Information

Text "pirate" to 333222 for a summary of Gasparilla policies. (Students can text "change" to 333222 for a summary for paradegoers under 21.)

Tampa police lay down the law on Gasparilla behavior to students 01/25/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 12:04am]

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