With nearly 100,000 fans expected to descend on the city for the NCAA Final Four this weekend, the New Orleans Police Department is getting some reinforcements.
The Louisiana State Police said Monday it will send 25 troopers to assist during the festivities around the hugely popular men's college basketball tournament. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office is also considering loaning deputies and other resources to the NOPD, which continues to grapple with its lowest staffing numbers in decades.
The department currently employs about 1,100 officers after losing roughly 180 since the start of last year. That's well below the agency's ideal staffing size of 1,600, based on a peak number reached in 2010, prior to a budget-related hiring freeze.
Last month, city leaders pointed to the manpower shortage to justify shortening Carnival parade routes and bringing in federal law enforcement partners to assist in tackling a surge in violent crime.
Now, they hope the state troopers will keep law enforcement visibility high for the crowds expected to arrive with powerhouse teams like Kansas, Villanova, Duke and North Carolina. The troopers will come from across Louisiana and will staff the entire Final Four weekend, from 4 p.m. Friday until 6 a.m. April 5, State Police spokesperson Kate Stegall said. A number of JPSO deputies may also join, though that was still being discussed Monday, Capt. Jason Rivarde said.
NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said officers patrolling on foot, horseback, and in cruisers will be a ubiquitous sight in the Central Business District and French Quarter as hoops fans attend the semifinals Saturday night and the championship game Monday evening at the Caesars Superdome. The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force and the state Analytical and Fusion Exchange will be on hand to assist as well.
In addition to the games, officers will be focused on securing the fan festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and a concert series at Woldenberg Park. They will work 12-hour shifts and will be confiscating illegally concealed handguns.
"The number one thing that we need to ask of everyone... is to leave your weapons at home," Ferguson said. "There is no reason to bring a weapon to the streets of New Orleans. It's a heck of a combination: food, spirits and a weapon."
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the large crowds are the latest sign that New Orleans is revving back to life following the coronavirus pandemic. A full slate of festivals, including Jazz Fest and Essence Fest, is on tap for the spring and summer.
"There's no stopping us now," Cantrell said.
(c)2022 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
Visit The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate at www.nola.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.