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Zero tolerance is long overdue at Gasparilla

USF students heading to the Gasparilla Pirate Fest on Saturday should be wary of’partying too hard. The Tampa Police Department has announced a zero-tolerance policy, and city officials rolled out a public awareness campaign earlier this month called ‘Responsibility is the Key.’

Gasparilla is a major event with a long history in Tampa, but its most recent trend has been one of drunken anarchy and dozens of arrests. Last year, 127 people were arrested, and it’s averaging 132 arrests per year in the last three years, according to the St. Petersburg Times. With the new policy this year, arrests may reach a record number.

‘ ‘We’re in a position to make a lot of arrests if we have to,’ Marc Hamlin, assistant police chief, said at a Jan. 5 news’conference.

While in the past they may have let some parade-goers off with warnings, police will arrest anyone engaging in illegal activities. The zero-tolerance policy is the right move and one that should’ve been implemented years ago.

Police will be on the hunt for underage drinking, kegs or coolers, flashing for beads, damaging or trespassing on private property, fighting and urinating in public.

Anyone with common sense or decency should know not to do these things in the first place, but the city has done its part to make sure no one will have any excuses if they get arrested.

Police held assemblies at several area high schools, making young people a primary target of the awareness campaign. The new policy has been advertised on radio announcements,’nine digital billboards,’600 posters at local businesses and 200 signs along the parade route, according to the Times.

The new policy has also been posted in USF residence halls.

Spreading awareness is a good move, but it won’t stop anyone from breaking the law. The police presence at the event has been increased to 275 officers – 50 more than last year. Drinking has been restricted to designated areas, and the parade route has been’lengthened to ease congestion.

‘There’s a real change in how you have to behave at Gasparilla,’ said Bill Gieseking, director of marketing for the event’s beer sponsor, Pepin Distributing. ‘You must be responsible or you could end up in trouble.’

This is an overdue step in the right direction to restore Gasparilla partying to a’reasonable level, and Tampa police should continue to enforce the zero-tolerance’policy in the years to come.