Deputy Police Chief Derek Hoppner surprised aldermen Tuesday night by asking them to cancel the city’s popular Mardi Gras night parade, saying the move was needed to protect police officers.
He told the Board of Aldermen at the meeting that officers have been assaulted at the parade for the past three years.
Aldermen Chic Cody reacted by defending the well-attended parade, saying the city needs to find a way to make it safer for everyone, even if that means adding barricades and officers.
Mayor Connie Moran suggested adding reserve officers and deputies. On Wednesday, she solicited public input on the issue via Facebook. The Ocean Springs Carnival Association night parade is scheduled for Feb. 24, the Friday before Mardi Gras, at 7 p.m.
Hoppner gave the aldermen a memo outlining his complaints before Tuesday’s meeting and said Police Chief Mark Dunston agrees with him. Dunston, however, was out of town, he said, and did not sign the memo. Dunston called a press conference for 10 a.m. Thursday and is expected to announce the city will have the parade.
“My officers are assaulted and no one cares,” Hoppner told the board.
He said the night crowd is rowdy and that alcohol is usually involved, including underage drinking. There are fights officers have to break up, he said.
“The last three parades we’ve had officers assaulted,” he said.
One was hit in the head with things thrown from a balcony along the parade route, a motorcycle officer was hit in the helmet with a bottle and one was surrounded and kicked trying to break up a fight, Hoppner said.
Alderman John Gill said he didn’t appreciate being “blindsided” by the memo, and Alderman Matt McDonnell said he wanted to hear from the police chief himself before casting a vote on the issue. McDonnell said the parade is only 60 days away and canceling it now would be short notice.
The board decided to delay a decision on the fate of the night parade until the next board meeting in December.