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Men in blue bow to the green

There were legions of Irish step dancers, kilted bagpipers and revelers flaunting beer bottles during Sunday's St. Patrick's Day Parade in downtown Buffalo.

And Buffalo police were out in force -- triple the presence of previous years -- enforcing the law.

But promises to target public alcohol consumption, rowdy behavior and illegal alcohol sales along the Delaware Avenue parade route just didn't happen.

Some officers said they ordered revelers not to drink alcohol in public. Others said they advised them to place their alcohol in cups and mugs, which is still illegal, but less obvious.

In a few cases, officers forced drinkers to empty their drinks into garbage containers. At least one man was charged with disorderly conduct for throwing items at marching firefighters and SWAT team members.

James Clapps, 33, of South Main Street, Angola, was charged with inciting to riot, menacing, obstruction of government administration, disorderly conduct and drinking from an open container of beer in a public place. But aside from that, police mostly issued a lot of warnings.

In the end, the festive drinking was not a lot different from previous years.

"This is a tradition. Everybody's doing it, so how can they stop it?" said Chris Caruana, 21, who was enjoying a beer with his buddies near the corner of Delaware Avenue and Chippewa Street.

"An officer came up to us and said, 'You guys have to get out of here with those open containers.' We just walked 100 feet this way. . . . Problem solved."

His friends burst out laughing. One of them, James Arrigo, 21, chimed in, "They're just outnumbered."

About 30 officers were posted along the parade route -- about triple the manpower compared to previous parades -- but that was nothing compared with the thousands attending the parade.

As in previous years, hundreds drank openly on the street and sidewalks, mostly in bar areas around Chippewa Street and Allen Street.

As usual, beer cans and bottles littered the streets. Within the first hour of the parade, one entrepreneur had already filled his entire blue shopping cart with alcohol bottles and cans that he had gathered.

"This was never intended to be a crackdown on the parade," Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson said Sunday. "It was our hope that people would come and enjoy the parade, and we would try to ensure public safety as much as possible."

"It was never our intent to make mass arrest by the busloads," he added. "And we didn't want officers engaged in a melee with one person over an open container because it could snowball into something a lot worse."

The parade was mostly family-friendly, oozing with the warmth of Irish heritage and people displaying their cultural pride.

Smiling step dancers, adorned in dainty drop curls, wowed the crowd with their nimble-footed leaps as they braved the cold in short, colorful dresses.

The wearin' of the green was in abundance, from spray-painted faces and pajama pants to shamrock-shaped sunglasses.

Meanwhile, city inspectors targeted illegal vendors. Though most already had valid city permits, the few who didn't were able to purchase permits on-site, police officials said.

About two or three investigators with the State Liquor Authority were also patroling neighborhood bars in search of underage drinkers, according to Inspector Michael F. Gaspar, who oversaw the Buffalo Police Department's parade detail.

Adam Stephan, 27, was among about 70 people who were bused from a South Buffalo bar to the parade to prevent motorists from drinking and driving.

"I'm drinking. I'm drunk. And I'm Irish," proclaimed Stephan, 27, as he drank rum and cola with his friends on the sidewalk at Delaware and Chippewa. "This is a religious holiday in Ireland, but here it's turned into a drunkard holiday."

News Staff Reporter Anthony Cardinale contributed to this report.

e-mail: vthomas@buffnews.com

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