NEW ORLEANS (WGNO)— New Orleans may still be several months away from Carnival Season, but the topic of Mardi Gras was on many minds following a comment by Mayor LaToya Cantrell implying that 2023 celebrations could be canceled if police numbers continue to fall.
“If we don’t have adequate police, it could mean that there will be no Mardi Gras — and that’s a fact. If our officers cannot be safe, then there’s no way that our city will be safe,” Cantrell said during a budget town hall meeting in Lakeview Thursday night.
On Friday, the Mayor’s Office backpedaled on her comment, releasing a statement with the headline “We are NOT canceling Mardi Gras,” and citing a nationwide shortage of public safety staff that is causing concern among city staff. Read the mayor’s full statement below.
The mayor’s empty threat to cancel Mardi Gras had tourism leaders concerned, despite there being six months until crowds line up for parades, ready to catch beads and other throws.
“Mardi Gras is not only who we are, it’s what we do, and we do it better than anyone in the world,” explained Kelly Schulz with New Orleans & Company. “The New Orleans Police Department is the best in the world at managing large crowds and executing the complex logistics of something like a Mardi Gras.”
But the fact of the matter is the NOPD is strapped. According to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, there are currently 18 cadets in the NOPD Training Academy with another 15 starting next week. However, compared to this time last year, the police department has lost 124 officers.
Still, residents argue the NOPD shortage has been a problem for a while.
“That’s crazy—we didn’t have a lot of cops last year and we did fine,” one resident said.
“It is critical we keep our visitors safe, but not only the visitors — it’s all of us who live in New Orleans,” Shulz told WGNO’s Kenny Lopez. “We are confident there will be a solution.”
In a tweet, City Council President Helena Moreno says the best approach is to start planning now on bringing in all the resources needed to have a safe Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras will fall on Tuesday, February 21 in 2023.
FULL STATEMENT — Mayor LaToya Cantrell
“We ARE NOT canceling Mardi Gras.
New Orleans, like the rest of the nation, is experiencing a shortage of public safety personnel that includes police, fire, EMS – across the board – you name it. The United States Army even says recruitment for our Armed Services has reached historic lows. I hear from my brother and sister Mayors all the time about how these global economic challenges – the big three: inflation, supply chain, and labor shortage – have created unforeseen difficulties that hamper our ability to attract candidates to these noble professions. New York, Chicago, and even our own Louisiana State Police all are facing unprecedented personnel shortages. However, we have taken aggressive steps to increase recruitment and retention initiatives, have enhanced technology, and built more efficient facilities as we have discussed over the last few weeks.
We have invested nearly $1 million into promotional marketing and introduced enhanced equipment and facilities, including the $3.7 million firing range that my administration unveiled yesterday, which is the first of its kind in our city and signifies our commitment to 21st-century policing. In addition, starting early next year, we will begin paying cash bonuses of $5,000 to police officers according to their years on the force. We understand the challenges are real, but the City of New Orleans remains committed to delivering critical resources needed for our public safety agencies, while also continuing to safely host large-scale events that allow us to celebrate our beloved culture.”