Jackson County

Ocean Springs officials approve permit for Mardi Gras night parade

Ocean Springs Police Chief Mark Dunston
Ocean Springs Police Chief Mark Dunston amccoy@sunherald.com

Police Chief Mark Dunston said Thursday at a press conference the call for canceling the city’s Mardi Gras night parade was a miscommunication.

The parade has his blessing to roll as scheduled through downtown on Feb. 24, he said Thursday morning, and city aldermen approved the special-events permit for the parade at their meeting that evening with no

additional discussion.

On Tuesday, when Dunston was out of town, Deputy Police Chief Derek Hoppner addressed the Board of Aldermen, calling on them to cancel the parade because he said officers aren’t safe. Hoppner told city leaders the paradegoers have assaulted his officers the last three years.

The crowds are rowdy, there’s underage drinking and police have to break up fights, he told the board.

Aldermen, however, were leery of canceling the popular parade that last year drew 30,000 to 40,000 people, because, as city officials say, “Ocean Springs is an event city.”

Dunston said his officers are equipped to handle rowdy crowds, fights and being spat on. He said Hoppner had the authority to address aldermen with the complaint and “make decisions on the fly.” However, Dunston had not signed off on the memo Hoppner drew up.

Dunston said the whole thing “did get blown out of proportion.

“It was not delivered exactly in the right way, so it got a little heated,” he said.

In 2015, 24 arrests were made at the night parade and Dunston said it’s to be expected that there are more arrests at a night parade. Alderman Chic Cody said last year’s was the worst.

The idea going forward would be not to cancel the parade but to make the 2017 parade safer with more law enforcement help, 100 more barricades, more restrictions on parking along the parade route and more officers in the big Swingster parking lot on Government Street, where people gather.

Mayor Connie Moran said, “We value events. It’s what makes Ocean Springs what it is.”

Heather Eason of the Ocean Springs Carnival Association, which hosts the parade, said Hoppner voicing his concerns “brought perspective and dialog” to the issue of parade safety. She said it was a good thing, because the night parade is a family event.