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New Orleans' challenge: policing 2 huge parties

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New Orleans' challenge: policing 2 huge parties

NEW ORLEANS (AP) A New Orleans police force famed for its crowd control prowess is getting help from state and federal authorities as the city hosts an estimated 150,000 Super Bowl fans while preparing for the raucous buildup to Mardi Gras, which also draws thousands to the historic French Quarter and its restaurants, bars and strip clubs.

The security challenges began in earnest Friday night with the first of the city's major float-filled Mardi Gras season parades. This week, the parade schedule is on hold while the Super Bowl takes center stage. Mardi Gras preparations resume once Sunday's game is over, and the parades roll again starting Wednesday.

The city's police force of 1,200 officers is bolstered this week by more than 200 Louisiana State Police troopers and hundreds of federal authorities from several agencies.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was in town for a Wednesday news conference outlining security precautions, including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement scans of cargo shipped to the game site and Coast Guard work to assure maritime safety and security along the Mississippi River. Game-day plans will include flight restrictions in the airspace near the Superdome, pat-down searches of ticket holders and the use of dogs to sniff out contraband.

Michael Anderson, head of the FBI's New Orleans office, said no credible terrorism threats have arisen.

``This week, there is no safer place to be than the city of New Orleans,'' added Raymond Parmer, a special agent with ICE.

Even with all the help, the combination of Super Bowl and Mardi Gras season means New Orleans Police Department officers are working more than three weeks' worth of 12-hour days, on the lookout for everything from petty crime and public drunkenness to random gunfire and the threat of terrorism. It will be an exhausting stretch that city officials say will cost the city several million dollars in police overtime.

``If we can, we'd like to give them some time down,'' said police chief Ronal Serpas. ``But if we can't, they know it and they'll stand up for it.''

It's also a unique chance for Serpas to show off one of the strengths of a department beset by scandals involving brutality and mismanagement. City officials have carried out numerous reforms aimed at cleaning up the department, which has seen five officers convicted of civil rights violations stemming from deadly shootings of unarmed residents after Hurricane Katrina.

For years, though, crowd control has been the department's bright spot, especially during Mardi Gras revelry on the narrow streets of the nearly 300-year-old French Quarter, home to fancy restaurants and art galleries as well as sleazy bars and strip joints.

``I think the NOPD does take a particular pride in its long-standing history and long-standing demonstration that managing large crowds is something we do very well,'' said Serpas, who is in his third year running the department.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, alcohol-fueled crowds often spill over into the neighboring Faubourg Marigny, an increasingly popular area of music clubs and restaurants. A 15-block-long stretch of Poydras Street, linking the Superdome to the Mississippi River and the massive Harrah's Casino, is seeing increased foot traffic during sports events with the opening of more bars and restaurants in recent years. And, outside the Quarter, lavish Carnival season parades draw tens of thousands to the miles-long routes. During the final weekend of Mardi Gras, streets of the metro area can be packed with more than a million people, and more than a few will be overdoing it.

``The thing about Mardi Gras crowds is, we get this impression that some of the people may have been drinking,'' Serpas deadpanned.

Police perched atop horses watch for problems on the horizon and keep people moving, while uniformed officers on foot mingle and build rapport with the partiers to keep the peace. Plainclothes officers will be on the lookout for weapons and other less visible problems. Arrest numbers vary from year to year, though police commonly arrest at least several hundred people each year during Mardi Gras-related celebrations - most for relatively minor transgressions.

Joining the department's officers for Super Bowl week are more than 200 state troopers and about 100 officers from surrounding local jurisdictions. Also, with the Super Bowl considered a potential terrorist target, there is a beefed-up federal contingent. That includes close to 100 extra FBI personnel supplementing the regular New Orleans FBI staff of 200 agents and support staff, said Anderson.

The New Orleans FBI office will be home to a joint operations center where the goings-on will be constantly monitored by representatives from all involved state, local and federal law enforcement and security agencies. Such a center is standard operating procedure for the Super Bowl each year, Anderson said.

New Orleans police will take the lead on local crime, traffic or public disturbances, Anderson said. ``If there's any inkling of a terrorist attack or threat of terrorist attack in any way,'' he said, ``then we kick in with our full apparatus.''

At Louis Armstrong International Airport, the Transportation Safety Administration is adding personnel and equipment to handle security checks, said TSA spokesman Jon Allen. He said there will be 11 additional checkpoint lanes added to the 14 existing lanes for passenger screening.

Five additional explosives-detecting machines have been added to screen checked baggage, and more than 100 transportation security officers will be brought in from other airports starting Sunday to help local airport staff, Allen said. The officers will stay through the middle of next week, he said.

Beyond the city's police costs, exact security costs are difficult to determine. Federal officials declined to detail specifics, and an NFL representative would say only that the league will spend millions.

Mardi Gras season happens every year, and the city is no stranger to Super Bowls, having hosted nine - including the 2002 game that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although security planning for the Super Bowl has grown increasingly complex since the attacks, no acts of terror or other serious problems have been reported at Super Bowls in recent years.

Most Super Bowl problems in recent years resulted from human gridlock. At last year's Super Bowl in Indianapolis, 11 people suffered minor injuries during a free outdoor concert. But officials said otherwise there were few problems.

This year, officers will be prepared to reroute or block vehicle traffic when streets are full of pedestrians. As for terrorism worries, Anderson said preparations include formation of SWAT teams and ``hazardous incident teams'' - specialists in hazardous materials or explosives assembled from the various federal local and state agencies.

Serpas welcomes the help, but he said much of the cooperation comes from the partiers themselves - a diverse crowd that can consist of locals and families picnicking on parade routes and a more adult, heavier-drinking crowd downtown and in the Quarter.

``You look at that parade route, and on any one block there could be 10,000 people and two cops,'' Serpas said. ``How do those two cops stay safe, and how does that crowd stay safe? We're actually working together.''

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Former Wizard Marcin Gortat announces retirement

Former Wizard Marcin Gortat announces retirement

Long-time NBA veteran, and former Wizard, Marcin Gortat is retiring from the NBA, the center announced in a video via the Polish news station TVP.

At 35-years old, the big man had been out of the league this season following spending 2018-19 with the Los Angeles Clippers. In the video, Gortat mentioned that he gave himself the year off to weigh his options, and he now realizes it is the right time to hang it up.

A 12-year career, the "Polish Hammer" was a consistent and reliable force down low for the four teams he played for. Some of his best years came in D.C. with the Wizards. In five seasons with Washington from 2013-18, Gortat averaged at least 10 points in four seasons and played in at least 75 games in all five campaigns. 

His time with the Wizards also included three trips to the postseason. Gortat was traded to the Clippers for Austin Rivers following the 2018 season and was waived in February of 2019. 

An intense competitor, some NBA players have already begun to share their appreciation for Gortat, and more are sure to chime in.

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Kurt Suzuki finds himself in surprising spot of headline maker

Kurt Suzuki finds himself in surprising spot of headline maker

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Kurt Suzuki will turn 37 years old while in a major-league uniform if the Nationals play October baseball again this season. This is year 14 and the second stop with one of four teams he’s played for. Suzuki spent time in the American League,
 then the National League, then back to the AL before a return to the NL. He’s well-traveled.

Which makes the headlines cooking with his name all the stranger to him. Following comments to The Washington Post that the Houston Astros were using a whistling system to steal signs in the 2019 World Series, Suzuki’s name was hurled to the front of the cross-player sniping currently pervasive in Major League Baseball. Houston’s Carlos Correa transitioned to specifically talk about Suzuki on Saturday when he rumbled through a session with Astros writers. Sunday, Suzuki conducted his own group session, something he was partly in disbelief about, and something he doesn’t want to keep occurring. 

“Honestly, I’m too old to get in the middle,” Suzuki said. “I really don’t associate myself with this kind of stuff. I just kind of go about my business and try to stay out of everything and get ready to play baseball. That’s what it’s about -- playing baseball.”

Suzuki’s steady answers Sunday inside the Nationals’ clubhouse focused on two ideas: he’s enjoying the World Series and preparing for 2020. Suzuki stopped short of saying “I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” but that was the general tenor after he politely agreed to talk with reporters despite being self-aware enough to realize the topic.

“I thought you guys were going to talk about the 1-for-20 in the World Series,” Suzuki joked.

He made the same joke with teammates before heading to meet the media. He was asked where that “one” landed.

“Train tracks.”

Suzuki joined Yan Gomes, pitching coach Paul Menhart, Davey Martinez and others in devising a multi-tiered system to protect signs against the Astros in the World Series. Suzuki did not say Sunday he knew the Astros were cheating in the World Series. 

“You hear stuff around the league,” Suzuki said. “All you do is you do your due diligence and you try to prepare yourself to not get into that situation. We just did our homework on our end and did everything we possibly can to combat the rumors going around and we just prepared ourselves. That was the bottom line: just getting ready for it if it did happen.”

His session of diffusement ended with a nod to Max Scherzer’s comments from when spring training began. Scherzer bounced back questions about the Astros by advising reporters to go talk to them. 

“That’s their situation,” Suzuki said. “I think Scherzer said it best. They are the ones that have to do the answering. We’re just getting ready for the 2020 season to defend the title. That’s it. We’re getting ready, enjoying our teammates, enjoying the World Series and getting ready for the season.”

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