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New Orleans second line parades face size restrictions as police staffing crisis continues

A second line at Satchmo Summerfest. Aug. 7, 2011.
Derek Bridges
Flickr Creative Commons
A second line at Satchmo Summerfest. Aug. 7, 2011.

Richard Anderson can’t wait to kick off the Single Men Social Aid and Pleasure Club’s annual second line on March 20 – the club’s first since before the pandemic.

“We haven’t paraded in two years,” Anderson, the club’s business manager and treasurer, said. “We have everything we need: our clothes, our decorations, our band. We’re just ready to hit the street.”

But just weeks before his club is set to roll, the city announced it would begin enforcing an existing rule limiting the size of second lines, putting a damper on the plans.

Anderson says the move will force his group to cut a trolley and two vehicles from the parade. “People have already paid for trolleys, paid for clothes, paid for whatever they’re gonna throw,” he said.

The rule – which puts a cap on the number of parade “elements,” like bands, floats and trolleys – has been on the books for years, yet city leaders have historically turned a blind eye to it. But now, facing ongoing law enforcement staffing shortages, the city has decided to enforce it.

“We’re not trying to shut anybody down, we’re certainly not trying to tamp down the culture,” said city spokesperson Beau Tidwell at a weekly press conference on Tuesday. “We’re really just trying to work with the numbers we have available.”

But second line organizers like Anderson wish the city would’ve waited til next year to enforce the rule, rather than begin in the middle of second line season.

For events like second lines, event organizers must apply for a permit with the city and hire an off-duty officer through the Office of Police Secondary Employment. When too few officers sign up, plans may need to change at the last minute. That’s what happened to the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus and Krewe du Vieux parades, when announcements of route shortenings came just days before the krewes were set to roll.

A different process is in place for parades that happen at the height of Carnival season. From February 18th through Mardi Gras day, the city activated local law enforcement at its full capacity. NOPD officers worked 12-hour shifts for two weeks straight, Tidwell said.

Now, those officers are stretched thin, especially as they contend with rising rates of violent crime, Tidwell said. “We have to drop the pressure on them somewhere, somehow,” he said.

NOPD staffing levels have been on the decline for years, according to NOLA.com. Tidwell said Tuesday the agency currently has 1,024 officers – down from 1,730 in 2005. Last month, the city proposed new recruitment and retention efforts, like hefty signing bonuses for new officers. Yesterday, a federal judge approved the city’s request for NOPD officers to be able to work more off-duty detail hours per week, exceeding the cap set in place by the longstanding federal consent decree over the police department, NOLA.com reported.

Tidwell emphasized that enforcement of the second line rule is not meant to be punitive, and suggested the city won’t necessarily dole out tickets. In the past, if a second line rolled out with more elements than stated on its permit, NOPD could quickly adapt day-of, but that’s harder to do with more limited staffing, he said.

“Enforcement looks like, five days before, NOPD sits down with you and says, here’s what we’ve got and here’s what the expectations are,” Tidwell said.

Questions remain, though, about what exactly this decision means for clubs. Tidwell said if a club would like to roll with more elements in their second line, those just need to be accounted for and paid for in their permit. But Anderson said he was told by the city that wouldn’t be possible, and that his club would need to roll at the limit.

On Tuesday, Tidwell raised concerns that too few officers had signed up to staff this weekend’s Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade. But as of Wednesday, the parade is set to roll at its full capacity, said Kirah Haubrich, its permit consultant. 

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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