Business / Economy

Police prepared for biker rally crowds

Police chief says months of planning have the city ready for the Fourth

Hollister Police Chief David Westrick says his officers are prepared for the tens of thousands of motorcyclists and other visitors expected roll into downtown for the Fourth of July weekend for the annual Hollister Biker Rally. 

"We prepare all year, with meetings starting in October and then monthly meetings with the staff throughout the city, county and region to get our game plan together," Westrick said just days before the event. While he had no firm estimates on the number of people expected to visit downtown Hollister, he said "we prepare for large crowds."

That preparation includes having members of the police force get training for working large events by sending them to other rallies "to see and vet out best practices that worked" in other cities. "We have a lot of experience, but we like to see if there are ideas outside the box that will make it a better and safer event for everyone," Westrick said.

With the recent installation of city-funded surveillance cameras downtown, law enforcement will have an additional tool that Westrick calls a "force multiplier" for allowing quicker response times should the need arise.

"In 2007 we had more than 150 officers on duty," he said, noting that while he won't discuss the amount of officers on duty this year, it will be fewer than that. "We're going to utilize that (surveillance) technology to make us more efficient so we can be more proactive and quell any instances before they become a problem. We want the folks that come hereto see our community is a good host and that we're welcoming."

A large first aid center will be set up near Fire Station No. 1 on Fifth Street to expedite medical treatment if the need arises. Six paramedics on bicycles will have defibrillators and officers will be spread out around the rally "so there's movement and the ability to respond quickly," Westrick said. "My mandate is making sure the event, the city and the region are safe."

As with previous rallies, Hollister police are coordinating with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to patrol the rally, which essentially will shut down the streets of downtown from Thursday night through Sunday evening. Asked about yearly concerns about a criminal element at the rally, Westrick said, "you prepare for all of that," though he believes the typical biker in town this weekend will be "a guy who is really proud of his motorcycle and who wants to show off his bike and look at others. There will be that small group that may or may want to start some nonsense. We have to prepare for that."

Westrick listed his top three concerns for the weekend biker rally:

– People who have too much to drink: "We want them to enjoy themselves within the rules of law. We don't want them to leave the event and get in a wreck," Westrick said.

– Medical issues, such as heat stroke: "We're set up for it with trained EMT's (emergency medical technicians) down there and the fire department will gear up and have equipment ready."

– The threat of fire: Drought conditions combined with fireworks are a dangerous mix, the chief said, so the police department will continue to actively seek out and levy a $1,000 fine against people using illegal pyrotechnics.

Westrick said something new he did this year was ask the city's engineering department to help prepare evacuation plans in case of emergency, such as a downtown fire. "We've got a predetermined plan for evacuation of that specific area so we can get equipment in and keep people safe," he said.

The rally officially begins at 9 a.m. Friday morning, through set up will take place all day Thursday. Westrick said downtown side streets will be blocked Thursday at 6 a.m. and San Benito Street traffic will close to all but motorcycle traffic later that day. The main thoroughfare through downtown is expected to reopen at around 3 p.m. Sunday, when official sales of food and merchandise will cease. "By 6 p.m., we'll try to reopen San Benito Street," Westrick said.

For more information on the rally, including a daily schedule and list of vendors, click here.

Adam Breen

Adam Breen has been a San Benito County resident since 1980 and graduated from Sacred Heart School and San Benito High School before earning a bachelor's degree from California State University, Fresno. A father of two sons, Adam has taught newspaper, English and yearbook at SBHS for the past decade, after six years as a magazine editor for Santa Clara University. He previously was editor of the Hollister Free Lance and content director for BenitoLink.