Dealing with the Police

New Orleans cops generally take a “live and let live” approach during Mardi Gras, but that doesn’t mean the coast is all clear when sailing several sheets to the wind. Every year during the party frenzy ending at midnight on Fat Tuesday, a multitude of imbibers and unruly revelers end up in the pokey on “public nuisance” charges. Overcrowded and underfunded, the Orleans Parish Prison, a k a Central Lock-up, is the Big Uneasy — a serious reality check for those who let the good times roll to far.

Don’t let the good times roll too far

Officers have to put up with a lot during the festivities, including requests from parade-goers for help with retrieving throws.

New Orleans cops pride themselves on knowing how to handle crowds at big events, and generally take a “live-and-let-live” approach during Mardi Gras. But they work a lot of overtime and have put up with a lot: unruly crowds, people wanting their photo taken, medical emergencies, drunks, fights, accidents, traffic snarls and helping little Jimmy who got lost during the parade.

Visitors may think it’s OK to act brazenly just because it’s New Orleans and, hey, “anything goes.” Wrong! Consider that in 2002, police made 1,189 arrests during Mardi Gras in the police district covering the French Quarter and the Central Business District. Of that total, 912 were made by plainclothes officers.

The vast majority of the infractions involved violations of the city’s municipal code — non-violent “quality-of-life” offenses such as public drunkenness. In many such instances, the officer has the option of issuing a summons or making an arrest. Not surprisingly, public nuisance offenders who are obnoxious in dealing with the apprehending officer typically wind up in Central Lock-up. Hence Rule No. 1: If confronted by a police officer, don’t act belligerent or gripe — just do what you’re told. Rule No. 2: Try to pretend you’re not as drunk as you probably are.

Especially during Mardi Gras, police have zero tolerance for fighting; even just trying to break up a fight is usually a bad idea. Also, if you see somebody else getting arrested, don’t interfere.

Just because New Orleans trades on its famously relaxed, laissez-faire reputation — sin city on the Bayou—doesn’t mean the coast is all clear when sailing several sheets to the wind. Every year during the five-day party frenzy ending Fat Tuesday, a multitude of imbibers end up in the pokey on charges of public drunkenness, often in combination with resisting arrest, disturbing the peace or lewd behavior (the typical charge for people caught urinating in public). Overcrowded and underfunded, the Orleans Parish Prison, housing an average of around 3,000 prisoners a day, is the Big Uneasy — a serious reality check for those who let the good times roll to far.

Reporting on the Mardi Gras arrest blotter in 2009, the Times-Picayune‘s Katy Reckdahl found many booking photos with “goofy grins” and noted a wide range of offenses that, typically in combination with public drunkenness, had led to arrests, including stiffing bartenders and cab drivers, parking in a handicapped zone, driving on curbs, driving without proper license and “traversing a police cordon.” So in other words, if you act as if Mardi Gras is an excuse for stupidity, it’s not so hard to wind up in lock-up.

Also note that the local criminal justice system is chock full of cases involving minor narcotics violations, so think twice before indiscreetly indulging. In August 2009, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizaro told members of the New Orleans City Council that of the approximately 2,100 open cases in Criminal District Court, about one-third involved possession of marijuana. Holding personal amounts of marijuana has not been decriminalized in New Orleans, but as of Jan. 30, 2011, simple possession cases are classified as municipal offenses, so officers can issue a summons rather than make an arrest. Penalties — a $500 fine or up to six months’ jail time — remain the same.

Arrested individuals get a free trip to the Intake Processing Center (IPC); operated by the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff (phone 504-822-8000), it’s located at 730 South Dupree Street. If you someone you know is arrested, call the center’s automated inquiry system at 504-827-6777. It will let you know the following:

  • Charge Information
  • Inmate location
  • Visitation Information
  • Mailing Information
  • How to bring property to an inmate
  • How to deposit money into inmate’s commissary account.

At the IPC, you can access up-to-the-minute information about arrested individuals moving through processing. The center also has kiosks for depositing funds into an inmate’s account by using cash or a credit card. You can also do secure online transfers of funds into an inmate’s account by clicking here.

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