For police, Mardi Gras requires quick reactions, patience and good shoes
By MARY FOSTER
NEW ORLEANS- Four hours into his second 12-hour shift of the weekend in the French Quarter, Officer Jonathan Carroll Jr. has been busy answering questions, giving directions, listening to drunken declarations of love and drunken jokes amid the endless roar of the crowd.
You can do a lot of things during Carnival in the French Quarter, he acknowledges, but not everything. So when a man drops his trousers, Carroll snaps a handcuff onto his arm before he's fully pulled his pants back up.
"It's never the local people," Carroll says. "They know how to behave. It's always the tourist from Nebraska or somewhere who've seen things on television and think anything goes."
Police tolerate flashing breasts, simulating sex acts, and generally lascivious behavior. But topping the list of things that aren't allowed are fighting, urinating on the streets and exposing genitalia.
"Any exposure below the waist will get you arrested," says State Police Trooper Arrid Hansell.
Although a smaller crowd was expected for this year's Carnival after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city, police said it did not look like anyone passed up the last weekend of the celebration before Mardi Gras.
Anticipating bad weather, officials postponed Saturday night's parades, including the Krewe of Endymion, sending thousands streaming onto Bourbon Street hours earlier than normal.
"This looks like a normal Endymion Saturday night," Carroll said. "They're just here earlier and there are a lot more locals than normal."
Ordinarily, most New Orleans residents skip the French Quarter frenzy in favor of family celebrations along the parade routes, but many said they changed their minds after being exiled by Katrina.
"You can't spend Mardi Gras in Birmingham," says Judy Jones, who lost her Chalmette house in the Aug. 29 storm.
Carroll, whose house took eight feet of water and a 75-foot tree from Katrina, was amazed by the festivities.
"Six months ago, when we were pulling people out of the flood, I would have never believed we'd be doing this now," he said.
There were about 25 uniformed state and city officers per block, plus plainclothes officers in the crowd.
Police had nightclubs clear their balconies periodically so that people would move instead of staying packed up.
"It helps us keep control," Carroll says.
Some officers patrol on horseback. That gives them a better view of the crowd and the horses are extremely effective for crowd control. However, two people were arrested for punching horses.
Arrests are swift and humiliating. As officers lead miscreants into a fenced-in holding area, the crowd frequently breaks into the theme song from the television show "COPS," singing "Bad boys, bad boys."
"I can't believe this," sobs one man who was caught exposing himself. "I was an altar boy."
By 6 a.m. Sunday, the crowd was down to a few hundred on the streets and in a handful of still-packed bars. Frosty weather didn't seem to bother women in skimpy outfits or men staggering along the street.
In spite of the thousands of people who had filled the Quarter for hours, fewer than 30 were arrested around the intersection of Bourbon Street and St. Louis Street, where Carroll was posted.
"Nice quiet night," he said. "Three more to go."
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