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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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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Justin Tucker kept the game ball from his first missed extra point

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Justin Tucker kept the game ball from his first missed extra point

It's Draft Day, baby!

Before the 2019 NFL Draft gets underway Thursday night in Nashville, Tn, here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes:

1. The Ravens made a VERY smart move Wednesday by signing kicker Justin Tucker to a four-year extension that will keep him in Baltimore through the 2023 season. In seven seasons, Tucker has experienced the highest of highs, and just last year, the low of his first missed extra point Week 7 against the Saints. Memorable as it is something we rarely see from Tucker, the 29-year-old has that game ball on display as a reminder of the ups and downs of his career.

“That’s a part of my story, and I want to be able to look at that and realize that was a learning moment,” Tucker said. “It was, perhaps, a pivotal moment for me as a professional.”

“I think it’s incredibly important for any football player, any athlete, anybody, to learn form both your successes and your failures,” Tucker said.

2. The Ravens are making one very special fans' dream come true this weekend during the NFL Draft. Mo Gaba, a 13-year-old superfan who's been blind since he was nine months old and is battling cancer for the fourth time, will announce the team's fourth-round pick from the Ravens' Draft Fest at the Inner Harbor Saturday. Gaba will be the first person ever to announce an NFL draft pick in Braille. 

3. General manager Eric DeCosta will lead his first-ever war room Thursday night, but he won't be kicking former GM Ozzie Newsome out of his usual seat at the head of the table. 

“I’ve been in that seat for a long time,” DeCosta said via the Ravens' website.

“The other reason is Ozzie doesn’t like change a lot,” DeCosta said. “He still gets his hair cut on Friday, he’s on a treadmill three times a day. He only started using an iPhone about six months ago. No, that’s not actually true

“But he definitely doesn’t like change, and I just feel like if we moved his seat, he’d be really flustered.”

4. The Ravens are showing increased interest in Alabama running back Josh Jacobs, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley. John Harbaugh did mention earlier in the offseason that the team could add another playmaker in the Ravens' backfield.

5. Free agent pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah reportedly visited the Ravens Wednesday. Drafted fifth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Lions, the Ravens could use Ansah after losing Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith in free agency.


Looking Ahead:

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

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The Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions is now officially over

The Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions is now officially over

WASHINGTON – This was not the way it was supposed to end.

The feeling after the Capitals’ Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday was one of shock. There is always an element of that when a team gets eliminated from the playoffs in overtime, but it wasn’t how they lost that made it so stunning. It was when.

“Everything can happen in a seven-game series,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “We all seen that. But right now it's just disappointing. We would've liked a better outcome. ... It's tough to swallow"

“We fight through 82 games and in Game 7, they score one goal and it’s a kind of situation where you’re disappointed, you’re frustrated, especially after last year,” Alex Ovechkin said.

After winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 and returning with largely the same core intact, returning as the defending champs to win the Metropolitan Division for a fourth consecutive year, no one envisioned Washington’s defense of the Cup and its quest to repeat to end in the first round. That was especially true when the Caps drew Carolina as their first-round opponent, a plucky team with a first-year head coach that made it to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

It looked like a favorable matchup for Washington. It wasn’t.

“All series long it was a game of mistakes,” Brooks Orpik said.

The Caps took a 2-0 lead in the series, Carolina battled back to tie it 2-2. Washington won the all-important Game 5 to push the Hurricanes to the brink, Carolina responded by winning Game 6 to force the all-or-nothing Game 7. The Caps even jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 7 and yet the Hurricanes just kept coming.

In the end, the overtime loss was shocking, but not surprising. Carolina had taken control in the second period and never looked back. They fired the first nine shots on goal in overtime and were controlling the play over a Washington team that just looked gassed. The Caps needed to get a favorable bounce, otherwise it was only a matter of time before Carolina would finish them off and that was exactly what happened as Brock McGinn deflected in a shot for the overtime winner.

There are many reasons Washington ultimately lost this series, but it was for none of the typical reasons we see in most upsets.

This was not a case of a goalie standing on his head to completely shut down Washington’s offense. Petr Mrazek made some key saves at times, but ultimately finished the series with a .899 save percentage. Take away the six-goal blowout of Game 5 and Mrazek’s save percentage rises to .919. That’s better, but still would rank only sixth among goalie with at least four starts this postseason.

This was not a case of a superstar forward putting the team on his back and carrying them to the improbable upset. Sebastian Aho tallied five points in seven games, Teuvo Taravainen had four. Both had fewer points that Jaccob Slavin who had nine assists and Warren Foegele who scored an improbable four goals and two assists.

This was not a case of Washington’s best players not showing up. Alex Ovechkin scored four goals and five assists to lead the team with nine points. Right behind him was Nicklas Backstrom with five goals and three assists. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored only one goal in seven games, but his one goal came in Game 7 to restore Washington’s two-goal lead in the second period.

Washington finished with a 25-percent power play and an 88-percent penalty kill, bot respectable numbers.

The Caps lost Michal Kempny and T.J. Oshie – both significant injuries – but Carolina had a number of significant injuries as well.

Really, the biggest reason the Caps felt they lost is because they were out-played, out-hustled and out-worked.

“I think we were all guilty of some mistakes at different times that were maybe a little uncharacteristic of us,” Orpik said. “Two two-goal leads at home within the same game is kind of a tough one to swallow. I don’t know if unacceptable is the right word but you have to be able to maintain those leads, especially on home ice and this time of the year. We made mistakes but they played great all series so it wasn’t just us. Eventually you have to give them credit at some point.”

Now instead of preparing for the quick turnaround of playing and starting a second-round series against the New York Islanders on Friday, the season is over and the Caps are left to wonder what could have been.

Already eliminated in the first round were the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Predators, all thought to be Cup contenders. Heck, even archrival Pittsburgh was out. Alex Ovechkin was playing at the top of his game as he claimed his eight Rocket Richard Trophy after leading the league in goals yet again. That performance carried over to the postseason and he was brilliant in Wednesday’s game.

But despite how favorable the road in front of them looked for another Cup run, despite the unreal performance the team’s top stars were delivering, none of it ultimately mattered.

The only thing harder than winning a Stanley Cup is winning it twice. Perhaps to expect a second championship was unrealistic. But a first round exit felt too soon. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end for a team that had finally learned how to win.

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs were already turning into the year of the upset. The Caps became the latest victim of that on Wednesday. And finally, a party that had begun in June 2018, came to an end officially meaning a new champion will be crowned.

“Every opportunity missed is devastating, really,” John Carlson said. “You only get to do this for so long and I've been fortunate to be on great teams. When you don't do well, it's more than we were up in a series or a game. It's everything. It hurts.”

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