St. Patrick’s Day Parade said to be one of the best in years

There were at least 100 of them. Some on motorcycles. Others riding horses. A few watching the entire parade live via television cameras set up weeks ago along the parade route.

But none of them wore any Irish green.

This year’s 40th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade — one of the best in years, organizers said — started at 11 a.m. for most people.

But for Kansas City police, parade preparations started in the wee hours of the morn, and even days before.

This was the first parade in the city’s history that would be monitored through the Emergency Operations Center, where police, fire department, medical and ambulance and all the various dispatchers would watch and coordinate together.

Saturday was good practice for the All-Star baseball game coming to Kansas City this summer, said Gene Shepherd, director of the center: “This will orient everyone to the system.”

By sunrise, police cruisers were gassed up. Golf carts assigned. Radios and cellphones charged. Most everyone arrived wearing creased blue uniforms, under-armor bullet-resistant vests and lots of sunscreen. A few bearded men in tees (undercover officers) would be dispersed through the parade crowd, too.

Copies of the 29-page security plan were handed out, but officers already knew where they were assigned and what their mission was. For most it was as simple as this: Keep the pedestrians safe by keeping them out of the street.

Simple asherding cats.

“Last year we had people not hold to the curbs and they got in the street,” reminded Major Rich Lockhart at roll call. Officers know that all it takes is one person to cross into the street and quickly hundreds will use the same path, upping the chances that a pedestrian will get hurt.

“OK, be careful out there today.”

And with those words, motorcycles zoomed to life, and a convoy of cars and vans slowly crept out onto Agnes Street.

At the intersection of Independence and Woodlawn avenues, the Emergency Operations Center was already humming with activity on the first floor of an old hospital. It’s opened usually for weather emergencies, like blizzards, tornado warnings or flooding events.

Several wall-sized computer screens showed real time video aimed at predicted hot spots where trouble might begin. Another screen showed the logs of called in complaints, whether they were ambulance requests or suspicious persons reports.

By 10:45 crowds were perched along the parade route. It was a sea of T-shirts in limes and emeralds and Kelly greens. Tall hats and short derbies. Green horns that bellowed like baby calves. Flashing green sunglasses and feather green boas.

Promptly at 11, the 147 entries revved up and moved down the 10-block route on Broadway. There were at least five marching bands and nine drill teams, with extra snappy snare drummers and high-stepping boys and girls (one wearing a Cobra head.)

“I saw a lot of families. It was a large parade and it was so nice to see so many families,” said Patti Aylward, the parade organizer.

And among the thousands of smiling gawkers, street sides were sometimes jammed 40 people deep, shoulder-to-shoulder. With the combination of good weather and good behavior, Aylward said she was thrilled with the outcome.

There were a couple of fights but those were quickly contained by police. (One parade-goer holding his dog on a leash tripped a perpetrator who was trying to run away through the Walgreens parking lot, giving police just enough time to cuff him.)

And there was a success, too, for the emergency center. Near the end of the two-hour parade, cameras showed activity at the McDonald’s on Broadway. Dozens of young men were starting to push each other, well before any police officer on the ground could notice.

But within one minute, six mounted horse patrols were in the parking lot. A police helicopter roared overhead. The show of force worked. The youths stopped and stared up at the riders and their steeds.

There were a total of 55 calls during the two-hour parade that included everything from ambulance requests to suspicious activity, said Lockhart. Two calls were reports of gun shots. “But one was unfounded and the other one was fireworksThis year was very, very uneventful.”

The emergency center monitoring worked well. Because of the crowds, ambulance crews struggled to pinpoint where one medical emergency was — until the center told them they were just 10 feet away. The coordination of communication made for fast responses, said Lockhart.

But after the parade ended came a human moment.

It was a story that surprised even seasoned officers who have worked the parade for decades. A father in Muskogee, Okla., called the Kansas City police because he had a tip that his runaway 15-year-old daughter was marching with one of the bands.

Police watched and scanned the parade groups. With the father’s description, they spotted her and brought her in, Lockhart said.

“That’s never happened before,” he said. “We hope it works out well for her and her family.”