Wednesday, February 13, 2008
New Orleans officials say security ready for NBA All-Star Weekend
NEW ORLEANS -- If the NBA ever had any doubts about New Orleans' ability to provide security for the All-Star game this weekend, Mardi Gras took care of it.
"The NBA security team has visited the city at least 20 times," Mayor Ray Nagin said. "They started getting comfortable with our ability to handle crowds pretty quick, but once they saw the crowd at Mardi Gras and the way we did things, they said if any city in the country can give us a good, safe game, this is it."
Security is the league's No. 1 priority, said NBA vice president Ski Austin, and Mardi Gras certainly reassured them New Orleans could provide it.
"We had been able to get a behind the scene look at plans for that event, and then come back and see it in motion," Austin said. "It was certainly an impressive display."
Soon after the NBA announced that the All-Star Game would be played in New Orleans, some questioned whether the city, still in the throes of a shaky recovery from Hurricane Katrina, was ready for such a big event. NBA players' union director Billy Hunter had expressed doubts that New Orleans could accommodate the league's showcase game.
"That's one man's opinion," police superintendent Warren Riley said. "I can't guarantee anything, but we stand here to say this NBA event will be a success. We are ready for big and small events."
Hunter's remarks were made months before the city successfully hosted a string of major events, the New Orleans Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Bowl Championship Series title game and then the 12-day Carnival celebration that culminated on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, on Feb. 5.
The bowl games drew an estimated 200,000 people, while several hundred thousand hit the streets for Mardi Gras.
New Orleans police have worked 12- to 16-hour days for 23 of the first 45 days of the year covering special events, said Riley, whose department has long prided itself on its ability to host major events.
There were six shootings in the city near the sites of Carnival celebrations. Police attributed the shootings to personal grudges or drug deals unrelated to the Mardi Gras parades and noted that visitors to the city were not harmed.
The All-Star Game brings four days of events to town and once again gives New Orleans a chance to shine under an international spotlight.
That in turn requires the city, which is still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina, and the police department, which is also still recovering from the 2005 storm, to prevent problems that would steal the focus.
Security inside the New Orleans Arena, home to most of the events, will be tight, spokesman Bill Curl promised.
"Any time there is a major event, levels of security go up," Curl said. "The thing is the communications lines are in place. We work together with the police all the time."
The security plan for the city, away from the arena, includes closing off vehicular traffic to the French Quarter and making sure pedestrians are safe.
"Downtown will look like Christmas, you'll have officers all around the place," Riley said.
He said his major concern is private parties during the event.
"We're going to have things going on around the city, celebrities at parties and people wanting to get into them," Riley said. "I'm a little concerned about parties we're not aware of going in and may have to provide security for."