Story by Isabella Brown, senior at Lusher Charter School
Whether it’s catching a shoe at Muses or getting a few days off of school, Mardi Gras always has something for everyone. Or at least almost everyone. For New Orleans police officers, it’s a bit give-and-take.
“It’s a combination of chaos and fun,” Officer Dave Barnes said. “It really is an enjoyable time to be a New Orleans police officer. It’s also a very taxing and hectic time.”
According to Barnes, Mardi Gras season for the NOPD starts weeks before actual parades start rolling. While locals prepare their costumes in advance, New Orleans police officers prepare by gathering their full Class A uniforms, which are specifically reserved for Mardi Gras.
Officers arrive hours in advance of each parade and deal with an array of potential problems, from people setting up barbecue pits too close to the route to heated arguments among people clamoring for the best spots.
Then they patrol the crowds during the parades. According to Barnes, officers always keep an eye on those who don’t look particularly interested in the parades.
“They may be walking on the backside of the route or maybe trying to pickpocket people during the parade,” Barnes said. “So we have to stay vigilant to keep an eye out for individuals who may be there and look like they have absolutely no interest in what’s going on with Mardi Gras.”
Barnes also said that the crowd plays a huge role in the NOPD’s ability to balance being part of the Mardi Gras celebration and being on duty.
“One of the things that I’ve found as an officer during Mardi Gras is the more you interact with the crowd, the more the crowd is going to help you do your job,” Barnes said. “So we don’t rely just on our officers, we also rely on the whole ‘if you see something, say something’ mentality.”
As the parades come to an end and people start to head back home, police officers often stay and help open traffic back up.
When asked whether being on duty during Mardi Gras takes away from time spent with friends and family, Barnes, with no hesitation, responded, “Without a doubt.” He further elaborated, explaining that he has a wife and two kids and that spouses of police officers during Mardi Gras are often referred to as “Mardi Gras widows.”
He explained that, during Mardi Gras, officers will often work 12 to 16 hour shifts for two weeks straight and turnaround times can be very short.
“So often we’ll be home for maybe four or five hours, overnight usually, and then turn around and head straight back out to get onto the parade route,” Barnes said.
“That’s one of the things that is a responsibility that we as police officers sign up for and took on as part of this job. We all swore an oath to uphold the constitution, serve, and protect the citizens of the city of New Orleans. And with that we have to make sacrifices to ensure that we can support our oath.”
So, while the job may have its ups and downs, New Orleans police officers are up for the challenge and are still able to partake in Mardi Gras celebrations from the sidelines. Sometimes.