As parties go, it’s hard to beat the jubilation of Mardi Gras. Derived from the region’s deep French roots and injected with plenty of Cajun culture, the festivities are a point of pride for New Orleans natives, giving proof to the city’s boundless spirit through the decades. Although associated parades occur over several weeks, the real action heats up around Fat Tuesday, a day for letting loose before Lent in the Christian tradition. Count on plenty of bands, booze, and beads – and not of the rosary variety.
But along with all the good-hearted debauchery, does Mardi Gras occasion more serious criminality as well? We set out to answer that question, studying 2017 crime data from across the Big Easy over a 36-hour period between Fat Tuesday and the following morning. We pinpointed the times and places where crimes happened and which offenses were the most common as the holiday went on. To find out where to be wary on your next Mardi Gras trip, dive into our results below.
Festivities and Felonies
While the French Quarter may be best known for its rich history and boozy hijinks, it’s also an epicenter of crime during carnival season. The neighborhood played host to 18 percent of crimes committed during the period studied. Crimes in such tourist-intensive areas are a consistent concern for local law enforcement and incite worry that reports of violence and theft will discourage future visitors. In response to the recent public concern, the city has turned to monitoring crime remotely, using a sophisticated system of video cameras to catch and deter perpetrators.
Although the French Quarter’s bars and nightclubs stay lively until the early morning, our data indicate crime peaks much earlier during Mardi Gras celebrations. In 2017, crime was most frequent in the evening, with the highest hourly totals falling between 5-10 p.m. There may be a simple explanation for the decline in crime around midnight: At that time, police begin to usher revelers off Bourbon Street. Their midnight march puts a symbolic end to the holiday, but our data suggest it may be an effective crime deterrent as well.
Breaking the Law on Bourbon
Bourbon Street attracts revelers at any time of the year, but the French Quarter’s most notorious thoroughfare is the center of Mardi Gras mayhem. Unfortunately, our findings show not all partying happens peacefully, with an array of infractions occurring along the street. The biggest occurrence was a complaint or disturbance, which took place on virtually every corner studied. This trend isn’t hard to justify given the extreme degree of noise and intoxication the bar-filled street typically produces.
More concerning crimes were also troublingly frequent on Bourbon Street, however. Burglary, robbery, or theft happened on numerous occasions, including five times on the corner of Bourbon and St. Louis Street. Fights broke out quite often as well, although they were contained to the strip between Iberville and Toulouse. Lost property reports were even more frequent, although it’s difficult to say whether these incidents involved stolen items or just goods that partiers misplaced after a few too many shots.
Although our data suggest caution is required on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, some blocks produced more crime reports than others. The most criminal stretch was between St. Louis and Toulouse streets, with 26 reports during the period analyzed. That block also had the greatest number of theft reports, with a total of five. This fact should have travelers minding their wallets as they walk this stretch, as well as between Conti and St. Louis streets, where there were four.
Some stretches had more mixed records, such as the area between Bienville and Conti. Although this block had the fewest reports overall, it also led all others in fight, assault, or battery incidents. Conversely, the area between St. Peter and Orleans had no fighting reports but the most for lost property. Perhaps as revelers near the end of their walk down Bourbon, they realize they’ve lost their phones or wallets somewhere along the way.
Being Safe in the Big Easy
Our data demonstrate a need for vigilance on Mardi Gras, for tourists and residents alike. But our figures should not detract from a rich tradition of revelry in a city unlike any other. In fact, the holiday typically draws about 1.4 million people to New Orleans, allowing them to experience everything the Big Easy has to offer. Given the size of that crowd, it’s safe to assume the vast majority in attendance can enjoy themselves without being impacted by crime.
Still, our findings suggest no Mardi Gras trip is complete without taking a few precautions. If you’re planning to party on Bourbon Street, keep your phone and wallet secured at all times and inaccessible to pickpockets. And while we can’t blame you for getting a little loose during the celebrations, keep close tabs on how you and your friends drink. Getting too intoxicated will make it hard to make safe choices – and ultimately recall the New Orleans experience once Mardi Gras is over.
We collected all 2017 crime data for New Orleans from data.nola.gov. We filtered for data from Mardi Gras 2017 (from Feb. 28 to March 1, 2017, at 12 p.m., to account for arrests after midnight on Mardi Gras) – a 36-hour period.
For Bourbon Street, we looked at crimes geotagged within one block of Bourbon Street.
For each street, we looked at crimes between each block on Bourbon Street. In some cases, crimes were located less than one quarter of the way down an intersecting streets.
In some cases, crimes may overlap between two sets of streets if the crime location was in the middle of an intersection. These crimes were listed for both streets.
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