Despite the noise of the motorcycles, the first two days of the Sturgis North Motorcycle Rally and Music Festival have been much quieter than many expected.
“From our point of view, now it begins,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin Keane, head of the Salmon Arm detachment, on Friday morning. “We have been told most of the tickets were the three-day sales, and the town looked much different today than yesterday, so here we go.”
Keane was speaking at a daily briefing that includes police, city officials, Neskonlith Band members, fire and emergency personnel, media and a private security firm contracted by Sturgis North.
No one from Sturgis North could be reached to comment on the attendance numbers for Wednesday and Thursday.
Consensus at the briefing was the weather, with its infrequent but heavy bursts of rain, was contributing to lower numbers at both the fairgrounds and the Gleneden site. The weather is predicted to continue with sporadic thunderstorms throughout the weekend.
Attendance at a Friday afternoon show ‘n’ shine at the Ross Street Plaza was also fairly subdued, and bike parking along closed downtown streets was widely available.
“We’re hoping it gets better than this,” said Al Wisman, a devoted Harley rider from Stirling, Alta., on Friday afternoon. “When you hear Sturgis, you think of it being wall-to-wall bikes. But you can hear a lot of people coming in now on the highway and the weekend’s just getting started, so we’ll see.”
Police and security have had more calls than normal, but Keane says most of the incidents have been minor.
Ten people have been held in jail, primarily for alcohol disturbance issues. There have been a dozen drug seizures and a similar number of driving prohibitions. A 17-year-old was found passed out in the middle of 50th Street Wednesday night by one of the Sturgis North shuttle bus drivers, who picked up the teen and contacted police. Approximately 68 motor vehicle tickets have been issued, including a number for speeding. One person caught for street racing had his vehicle impounded for seven days.
“It’s an older crowd and they have been pretty well-behaved,” said Bert Hick of Rising Tide Consultants who worked with Sturgis North on their liquor applications.
Sturgis North shut down operations at the fairgrounds earlier than anticipated Thursday night due to a lack of business. The Gleneden site, however, was much busier during the evening hours.
There were concerns the first night of operations at the Gleneden site as there was little to no lighting in the beer gardens or other portions of the festival grounds; however, this had been rectified by Thursday night’s events.
Police have made a strong and visible presence at Sturgis North, with the RCMP anticipating the presence of over a dozen outlaw biker groups at the event.
Approximately two-dozen members of the RCMP’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit were in Salmon Arm Wednesday and Thursday monitoring the event and will continue making patrols of the site all weekend.
“We want people to have a good time at this new event in Salmon Arm, and that is precisely why CFSEU will be there assisting our law enforcement partners, ” said CFSEU spokesperson Sgt. Shinder Kirk.
“While such celebrations can be low key, in past years, violence has erupted at some of these biker anniversary events and gatherings. “We are there to make sure that any potential for violence is suppressed.”
Most obvious among the biker groups was the White Rock Hells Angels Chapter, which has set up a vendor’s booth selling clothing and other items at the Gleneden site.
Neskonlith Band Chief Judy Wilson also praised the visible police presence, saying public safety is their top priority for the event. The Gleneden portion of the festival is being held on band land.
“The patrols have been great. It is very important to ensuring a safe environment for everyone.”
Others are calling the police presence excessive and are accusing the RCMP of prejudicial profiling of bikers.
Outside Outlaws Saloon and the Hideaway Pub, some people were passing out flyers calling for a protest of the police practice of stopping motorcyclists, and were encouraging bikers to email complaints to the RCMP’s E division.
While the person would not speak to the Observer, the flier reads: “If you’re pulled over tell them you’re being profiled and we’ve had enough… It’s no different then being pulled over because of race!”