Beads, not handcuffs: Tampa Police announce new Gasparilla rules

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Adults with open containers of alcohol in unauthorized areas will receive a citation: $75 for first offense,
$150 for second offense, $300 for third offense and $450 for fourth.

Chief Castor spoke about how the South Tampa/Hyde Park Community came to city officials in 2009 demanding that the excesses of Gasparilla be addressed, as the tension in the neighborhoods had been building for years. Since then, she believes the police force has done a good job of keeping the event safe. "I think as everybody knows we've put a lot of resources along the police route, and now we have taken resources off the parade route and put them into the neighborhoods."

Last year 342 people were arrested at the event, 277 related to alcohol. In 2010, there were 414 arrests, with 367 alcohol-related.

Mayor Buckhorn and Hillsborough County School chief MaryEllen Elia have recently recorded robo-calls designed to reach every middle and high school student in the county, warning them that if they are caught underage drinking at the event they will be arrested.

Buckhorn praised Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, the state's oldest and most prestigious krewe, for its help in cleaning up after the annual drink-fest. He said the group "stepped up, they acknowledged it, they went to work on fixing it and as a result of that relationship, this is a much better parade."

"It is a very different parade than it was five years ago...and that is better for this community," the mayor added.

Paradegoers can text "pirate" to 333222 to see the zero tolerance policy for Gasparilla from their smart phone.

Up until a few years ago, excessive levels of drunken partygoers, backyard urination, and property destruction in Hyde Park were de rigueur at Tampa's Gasparilla Festival in late January.

But two and a half years ago, local residents along the parade route said they'd finally had enough, and came together with local business owners, city officials and organizers to try to keep the party under control. Changes to the parade route and doubling the number of portable toilets (from 800 to 1600) have made a distinct difference since then.

With 400,000 or so expected to invade downtown Tampa on Saturday for this year's Gasparilla event, Police Chief Jane Castor, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other officials involved with the annual bacchanal on Monday announced a new city ordinance that will enforce a zero tolerance policy regarding underage drinkers — but will also give a break to adults busted for open container violations at the all-day party.

The new ordinance will allow officers to issue citations for open containers instead of arresting those drinking alcohol outside the designated zones.

"We want everybody to go home with a neck full of beads and not a pair of handcuffs," Chief Castor said at a news conference at the TPD headquarters in downtown Tampa. "Our intent is to make no arrests on Gasparilla weekend."

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