While Mardi Gras is a tradition like no other, the fact that the festivities date back for years doesn’t mean anything flies on autopilot — when talking about such large gatherings, much preparation is necessary behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly.
St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne says the most important factor in keeping festival season safe and secure for everyone is the amount of manpower utilized. Between approximately 60 and 70 deputies, he notes, are used for the Krewe of Lul parade.
“All of the deputies we call into service are on overtime,” Champagne said. “We do not use any deputies that are set to work their regular beats on the day of parade so that the rest of the parish is patrolled as usual. Everyone we use for the parade is called in for overtime. We ask for volunteers and get many, but we always have to force some to work those days.”
That, he says, comes at a substantial cost to the Sheriff’s Office, estimated the cost is roughly $40,000 in overtime expense to provide deputies for Lul and Des Allemands combined.
That said, he believes it’s worth it.
“Fortunately, our budget can handle these events. In the city and Jefferson, the krewes are charged for police security at parades,” Champagne said. We realize these two local parades cannot afford to pay the total costs. So, we view these two as community events that thousands of people enjoy so it is a worthy expenditure of public funds.
“It is a sacrifice from many deputies … who would like to be with their families on the holiday weekend but have to work.I hope the public appreciates their efforts.”Champagne said the Sheriff’s Office has secured both parades for many years and thus have a solid plan in place. He noted routes and plans are mapped out for deputies at all choke points and intersections and that deputies are deployed around the area to regulate traffic.
“There are a lot of logistics that have to be considered,” he said.
Champagne said he himself enjoys the festivities along with everyone else.
“I think both of these parades, as well as the Norco Christmas Parade, are great community and family events which are important to our parish,” Champagne said.
“Everyone looks so forward to them. I enjoy myself riding along and seeing the smiles and enjoyment on the children’s faces.”
EOC senior emergency coordinator Jim Polk said the EOC coordinates strategy with the Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Public works, local fire departments, EMS and the parish’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
“At the meeting, we discuss all of the possible issues that could come up during the parade, including weather, hazardous materials and terrorism and how we would protect and respond to the public,” Polk said. “We also go over logistical information such as barricades, traffic and timing.”
As Mardi Gras has evolved, Polk said so has the preparation. Things have to be more organized now, and earlier, as the celebrations have grown.
“A decade ago, there was not a lot of pre-planning before these parades. We now see the importance of having these inter-agency meetings,” he said.
While the public at large may not think much about what goes on behind the scenes to make these events a reality, Polk said they shouldn’t have to.
“The public is probably not concerned with how much planning goes on behind these parades but neither should they be,” Polk said. “Our goal is for them to have a safe experience.”