Have you ever been to the Mardi Gras? What is this Mardi Gras consuming south Louisiana with ever increasing frequency? It is a mystery to the uninitiated, a sacred celebration for the faithful, and a hassle of epic proportion for law enforcement.
The Carnival season is the spice of deviance, gluttony and sinful behavior prior to Ash Wednesday’s penitential season of Lent. Fat Tuesday is day zero, but the parades and celebrations begin weeks before.
I have worked the parade seasons over the last 23 years, and those spent operating undercover were the most memorable. My unit seldom walked the routes, but blends behind the scenes. The “other” celebration was our focus.
The illegal drinking, drug use, violence and vice make the celebration a risky proposition for the unprepared. Dressing as revelers, parents and partiers my team of operators combed crowds looking for victimizers lurking to snatch everything from your beer to your BBQ.
This account is not about the adventures of operating in an undercover role during the rowdiest, loudest and most no-holds-barred festival in the nation. It is about the parade duty I decided to spend with my officers on bicycle patrol.
You recall those days of care-free pedaling through neighborhood streets, parks and the angry neighbor’s garden? The exhilaration of freedom you knew the moment your foot cleared the seat and center bar? It was GO time as kids.
Well, working bicycle duty in the middle of a multi-mile, always moving procession of floats, marching bands, dance teams, Kings, Queens and their royal courts is nothing like that. Don’t discount the excitement of the experience though.
The thrill of balancing your bike as you stand nearly still as revelers cross your path, the thrill of guessing which strand of plastic Mardi Gras beads on the ground will cause you to crash, and slipping between the three-story rolling floats pulled by giant tractors and the links of metal barricades is always a treat.
You have to be asking the same question I just realized; Yes, I was wearing padded shorts. Now, back to the story of my being forced to deliver a precision headshot from a bicycle.
The idea for barricades is to obviously prevent the mass of humanity from spilling into the streets as the parade rolls by. I’ve seen float riders fall three stories to the ground and I’ve tended to children tragically run over by the thousands of pounds of wood, metal, plastic beads, and beer and krewe members.
As the most mobile team of officers on the route, my unit responds to the most serious situations. Yes, we have blue flashing lights and screeching sirens. They fall silent against the backdrop of high school marching bands and the crowd’s calls of, “Throw me something, Mister.”
We had been on the route for several hours by now and the later the night fell, the slower the carnival crawled, and the more intoxicated and volatile some groups grew. It was then that it happened. Headquarters dispatched a fight involving numerous individuals with one possibly armed with a weapon.
Even a single shot misfired has the potential for tragic consequences in crowds this large. It was critical that my unit cover the distance fast and safe. Lights and sirens activated, the band of six highly-seasoned officers set off, pedaling towards the danger over three-quarters of a mile away.
Trying to keep my pounding heart rate under control, as the combination of physical exertion and adrenaline pulsed through my body, I began mentally rehearsing the tactics my team would deploy to capture this armed attacker.
Visualization has been key to my survival. Over sixteen years in special operations working undercover drug buys and SWAT missions requires a laser-focused level of attention. I thrive in this environment. I live for the rush fueling my passion.
I am squarely in charge of this team’s controlled approach. We are buzzing past tuba players, politicians in open-top cars, DJ blaring deafening music and balancing the fine line squeezing between rolling float after float as the metal barricades zip by in a continuous blur.
Just then, a single elderly lady, having to be in her early 70s slid between the protective barriers. She bent over to pick up a plastic strand of Mardi Gras beads worth less than five cents.
Armed criminal less than one hundred yards away, this crouching, elderly lady placed her head right into the path of my speeding bicycle. The headshot was unavoidable and my entire bike shook from the impact, but I remained upright and moving.
Hitting my brakes, going into a power slide, I dreaded looking back at the damage this lady’s skull must have incurred. As she righted herself with her prized plastic beads in hand, she looked in my direction and stuck her right arm up into the humid late-night air.
Then, with her frail, boney hand she delivered a very distinctive, very gracious “middle finger” salute. Such is the Mardi Gras as experienced from the seat of a police officer’s bicycle.
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Chief of Police Scott Silverii, PhD is passionate about positive change. Over 22 years in policing gives Scott the experience and vision to believe there is always a better way of doing business.
His passion flourished while growing up with a close-knit community in south Louisiana’s heart of Cajun Country.
Scott’s life is seasoned by the Mardi Gras, hurricanes, oil spills, humidity, and crawfish boils. This gumbo of experience serves up a unique perspective in his writing.
But don’t let the smile fool you. Chief Silverii spent 16 years working in policing’s special operations groups (SOG) with years of undercover narcotics and SWAT missions. He has bought dope, banged down doors and busted bad guys. He combines his experiences with academic research designed to bring you the best and most compelling details of what life is like on the other side of the “thin blue line.”
Share Chief Scott Silverii’s vision at http://brightblueline.wordpress.com/
A Darker Shade of Blue: From Public Servant to Professional Deviant; Policing’s Special Operations Culture sneaks you behind the badge, revealing the mystique of police culture’s “Thin Blue Line.”
Come on-duty, undercover and after hours as Chief Scott Silverii, Ph.D. escorts you through a multi-year, cross-country examination into the fraternity of law enforcement.