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Tampa law enforcement ramping up aerial patrols for Gasparilla

Tampa Police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office will have multiple aircraft ready to go to keep people safe during Gasparilla.

TAMPA, Fla — The 2023 Gasparilla Pirate Festival is just days away and the event will feature more than 95 parade floats, 50 krewes, seven marching bands and the infamous Ye Mystic Krewe.

For police, an eye in the sky is a crucial safety tool during Tampa’s most iconic celebration.

"Gasparilla is one of the more difficult events that we do because of the large number of people and boats that are in the area for that time," Chief Pilot Chris Shepherd with the Tampa Police Department said. "The helicopter makes it possible for us to move overhead and get a picture of the whole event."

Law enforcement said they will use choppers and new technology to make sure things at the parade go smoothly.

"Let's say there's a missing child or something that someone's missing, then locating a single individual in that large of a group is a challenge," Shepherd said. "So that's where our camera systems help us out a lot, to be able to zoom in and focus on the correct area and hopefully we can get everyone back home safe."

Extra patrols will be on the water, but with so many people, they can use all the help they can get.

"You can imagine that the lift that is just on the water to keep the waterways safe alone," Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said.

Aerial crews are also on standby in case a rescue situation is needed.

"We also carry flotation devices in the aircraft, so if a boat was sinking or someone was in the water, we'd be able to deploy your life raft or a flotation device to them," Chronister said.

During the event, police helicopters have a large area to cover in what’s already a crowded airspace. They said they have to stay in constant contact with flight towers at the Tampa International Airport, Peter O’Knight airport and McDill Airforce Base to make sure there’s no confusion in the sky.

"We will be in communication with their tower and to make sure that we're keeping our appropriate distance from any aircraft that are approaching," Shepherd said.

Although it’s all hands on deck from the sky, on the water and on land, police said they still need all the help they can get.

"There's only so many law enforcement out here, and we need the eyes and ears of everybody, and part of that is through stopping and talking to a police officer or sending us a tip," Interim Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw said.

TPD said they will have officers rotate two-hour shifts with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to make sure there’s always an aircraft in the sky.

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