More than 300,000 people are expected to line Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday for the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, the Tampa Bay area’s annual parade.
Tampa Police will be stationed along the parade route to ensure public safety, but Chief Brian Dugan says parade-goers can do their part to make the event safe and enjoyable for all.
“We're just trying to remind everybody that responsibility matters. What one person thinks is funny, another person may not think is funny, and be careful that your good time doesn't impose on someone else's good time,” said Dugan.
The parade came under the national spotlight last year when a woman accused a member of Ye Mystic Krewe of groping her along the route. According to her account, a cigar-chewing pirate approached her, pulled down her top and tried to stamp her chest.
Tampa police investigated the incident, but no charges were filed.
"It's an incident that happened where we never really did kind of get to the bottom of who did it and what took place," said Dugan. "These are the things that happen sometimes when you get into a large group and alcohol is involved."
Richard Chapman, captain of Ye Mystic Krewe, says that kind of behavior will not be tolerated this year.
“We've gone through and talked to all of our members to reinforce the rules that have been in place for years and just try to bring the attention of that incident to everyone to make sure that we're all informed and wise about how we parade,” said Chapman.
Dugan said that the Tampa Police Department worked on an awareness campaign with all the krewes involved in this year's parade.
"Every year we do this, we always look at where our strengths and weaknesses are from the previous year and we try to build upon it," said Dugan. "We try to see the tone of the political climate in the world, and what the latest trends are and how we're going to keep everybody safe."
Dugan notes that officers will be watching closely for underage drinking.
"All of Hillsborough County Schools are notified that we're not going to allow underage drinking," said Dugan. "They know that there will be repercussions, that they're going to be taken into custody, released to their parents and we're also going to notify the schools on Monday."
Dugan also reccomends a couple of "common sense" safety measures ahead of Saturday's festivities.
Attendees should make sure they stay hydrated, pay attention to their surroundings, and note the location of their car to avoid getting lost after the parade ends.
Parents are advised to take pictures of their children before leaving the house in case they get separated during the parade.