Boston police will step up their presence Sunday at the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade, deploying more uniformed and undercover officers, as well as the bomb squad, along the parade route, officials said.
Since last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, “at just about every event we’ve now increased those types of resources just to ensure safety,” said police spokesman Michael McCarthy. “Our main focus is that people come out and enjoy themselves.”
Police are also urging people not to bring bags, though they are not banning them.
The parade, which McCarthy said is one of the city’s largest, has been held since 1901 and draws thousands of people to its 3.7-mile route. In the past five years or so, McCarthy said, police have cracked down on public drinking to make the event more family friendly. By and large, he said, the approach has worked.
“There was a period where it was getting rowdy, and there was a much younger population attending, a nonresident population,” he said. “We shifted our focus to the public drinking aspect of it and trying to remove that element from the day and make it more about the parade itself.”
Last year, police arrested 33 people, mostly for disorderly conduct, and cited 336 people for drinking in public, according to Globe reports. The year before, police arrested just eight people and issued 244 citations for public drinking.
“We don’t like to focus on the numbers,” McCarthy said. “What we do focus on is we have a zero tolerance for alcohol. Every officer will be equipped with violation books. The arrests are unfortunate, but if need be, that’s what we’ll do.”
He said police do not plan to conduct bag searches unless something looks suspicious.
Transit Police will also have an increased presence during the parade at Broadway, Andrew, and other stations, said Superintendent in Chief Joseph O’Connor, but he declined to say whether more officers would be out than in previous years. Transit Police will watch social media, especially Twitter, for conversations about the MBTA, he said.
“We’re always monitoring current events, and we’ll have significant assets in place to respond to any incident that may occur,” said O’Connor, who added that Transit Police will work with Boston Police and State Police. “There is no known threat to the event.”
Controversy has erupted in recent weeks around whether parade organizers will allow MassEquality, a statewide gay rights group, to march. A deal brokered by Mayor Martin J. Walsh that would have allowed the group to march provided they did not refer to sexual orientation fell apart, and the group has said it will not participate in the parade.
On Friday, Boston Beer Co., maker of Sam Adams, said it, too, would not take part.
The beer company said in its statement that it was hopeful that “both sides of this issue would be able to come to an agreement that would allow everyone, regardless of orientation, to participate in the parade. But given the current status of the negotiations, we realize this may not be possible.”
Noting that officials such as Walsh are declining to march, the statement said, “We share these sentiments . . . and therefore we will not participate in this year’s parade.”
Also Friday, Councilor Michael F. Flaherty defended his decision to march.
“I have participated in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade my entire life,” he said in a statement. “It is a family and community tradition. The parade does not define me or my political beliefs. As the first citywide elected official to publicly support same-sex marriage, I have consistently advocated for LGBT issues . . . I will march this year and welcome my LGBT friends to join me, as I do every year.”
Walsh said Thursday that he would make one more attempt to resolve the standoff over gays marching openly in the parade.
McCarthy said police are not concerned that the heightened tensions would result in clashes. “Our focus is public safety, no matter who marches or doesn’t march,” he said.
Public drinkers who are cited will face a $200 city ordinance violation, he said, though officers can arrest public drinkers who are loud or disorderly. Minors in possession of alcohol, he said, will be arrested.
Patrols in South Boston and in areas of the city with Irish bars were increased beginning Thursday. On the day of the parade, mobile cameras will be set up along the route to give police real-time feeds, and a State Police helicopter will patrol the skies looking for illegal rooftop parties.
Department of Public Works trucks will be brought in so police can throw out confiscated alcohol, and officers will be stationed outside bars, restaurants, and package stores along the route. Lines will not be allowed to form outside establishments, McCarthy said.
All package stores in South Boston will close at 4 p.m. Bars will not admit anyone after 6:30 p.m., alcohol service will end at 7 p.m., and patrons must be out by 7:30 p.m., he said.
The parade will snarl traffic in South Boston, with many streets closed or jammed, and people are urged to take public transportation.
O’Connor reminded MBTA riders to keep an eye out for unattended bags or anything suspicious. Concerned riders can contact Transit Police at 617-222-1212 or can download the MBTA See Say app for their phones.
Police are hoping to see fewer arrests and citations this year, McCarthy said. “We encourage people to come out and have a good time and a family atmosphere,” McCarthy said, “which is, again, no drinking and no disorderly conduct.”