February 28, 2000 09:00am
Cops Toss Flashers in the Can at Big Easy
by: Scott A. Pignone
(NEW ORLEANS) -- Some revelers at the kickoff of Mardi Gras festivities this year got free accommodations behind bars courtesy of the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff.
The reason? Lewd acts in public.
Police have been warning visitors and locals that flashing in public would not be tolerated this year -- and they say their actions show they were not kidding.
Police arrested 51 individuals over the weekend, all on Bourbon Street, on charges of lewd conduct in public, said Lt. Marlon Defillo, spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department.
They were taken to the 8th District police station and then transported to Orleans Parish Central Lockup. Those arrested were arraigned at first appearance hearings in Orleans Parish Magistrate Court over the weekend.
'An effort to enforce the law'
"Our focus in this enforcement is not a crackdown but an effort to enforce the laws and dispel the rumor across America that it's legal to come to New Orleans and commit lewd conduct."
Defillo told APBnews.com that police are aggressively enforcing the law to prevent problems within the crowds of the Quarter.
He said there was a sexual assault early today in the Quarter.
"A young woman was found being sexually assaulted on Bourbon Street at 1 a.m. this morning," Defillo said. "She was reportedly chanting for beads prior to the assault."
"We are enforcing this law to keep the young women safe and to prevent fisticuffs from occurring within the crowds," Defillo said.
Additionally, police are working with property owners in the Quarter to prevent beads and other Mardi Gras throws from being tossed from balconies to the crowds below.
"The stopping of throwing objects from balconies is really a public safety management issue," Defillo said. "Once you get people throwing beads to people below, the crowds around those balconies really increase in size and then it becomes a crowd management issue for us."
Defillo also said police are handling the long working hours and the crowds well.
"We're used to this," he said. "It's nothing unusual."
Using cameras to avoid trouble
In Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, Sheriff Harry Lee is hoping to cut down on the hijinks of the carnival season by using high-tech electronics to spot trouble and record it for later prosecutions.
Lee has deployed several elevated video camera platforms with high-length zoom Canon digital camcorders to record the spectators along the parade routes.
Deputies on the ground will radio camera operators -- a deputy manning the camera and a spotter -- to trouble spots along the parade routes so they can zoom in and capture the offenders on videotape.
Lee said this videotaping came in response to a fight at a parade in 1999 when people claimed police acted too harshly in responding to an "officer needs assistance call." He said deputies were trying to break up a fight caused by "hoodlums."
Cans 'knocked into the dirt'
"When an officer needs help, we're gonna haul ass," said Lee in a press conference last year after the parade. "If you have your back to the officers and you're in the way, you're gonna get your can knocked down into the dirt. We're not gonna say 'Excuse me please.'"
Deputies called for backup when a fight involving about five people escalated into a brawl with a crowd of 25 to 30, according to police reports.
"We're gonna use every method we can to reach the officers in need," Lee said. "If you don't like it, oh well."
Lee hopes the cameras will help provide evidence for prosecutors to charge the persons that start trouble or fights on the parade route.
Fred Shenkman, a University of Florida criminology professor and police consultant, believes people respond and feel differently when they see the police up close doing their job.
"People can watch the police in a fight on TV and say they are just doing their job, but when the same people see the police up close, they might think it's excessive," he said. "It's sort of a tit-for-tat. They want them to respond quickly, but don't want the police to interfere with them."