Biker rally rolls into town with security at forefront

Hollister Police Cheif David Westrick gives his speech during last year's 9/11 service.

Hollister Police Chief David Westrick is focused on keeping tens of thousands of visitors and locals safe over the upcoming Hollister Independence Rally weekend.
His concerns are especially amplified in light of recent terrorist attacks at an Orlando gay nightclub and a Turkish airport. After all, the motorcycle rally draws tens of thousands of people who pack into a relatively confined area, downtown Hollister. Furthermore, police have to deal with the fact that alcohol and biker-culture machismo are known to rev emotions here and there, too.
“We try to really do our homework on what’s happening currently,” Westrick said in an interview with the Free Lance before the rally.
He said that could range from examining the latest gang trends to keeping up on anti-terrorism tactics through communications with the feds. Westrick pointed out that federal agents are among the additional officers brought on to staff the security end of the motorcycle rally, which is entering its fourth year since the latest of various breaks that have put perpetual question marks around the rally’s long-term future. He also pointed out that all involved law enforcement agencies have a terrorism liaison on board.
Traditionally, Westrick and other chiefs have shied away from talking specifics about rally policing strategies or officer numbers. He talked in somewhat broad terms, though, about approaching a motorcycle rally after such large-scale attacks draw international attention.
“Last year, we had the Waco thing right before the rally,” the chief said, about the Texas restaurant shootout in May of last year involving biker gangs. “As you know, we plan and train and meet about the rally internally pretty much all year round.”
He said local police work with federal agencies on the intelligence side of rally planning.
“We have forged relationships with agencies by either attending their events or assisting them at their events so they, in turn, come to ours. That’s sort of the thing. We also have a lot of investigative-type resources that we sort of pay attention to every single day.”
As usual, police will be on the lookout for weapons such as firearms or knives, which are banned in the downtown area. Most of the time, Westrick said, officers will merely tell the person with a pocket knife to put it back in his or her saddle.
“For us, it’s not about writing a ticket,” he said. “It’s just about compliance. We like to welcome folks here into our community.”
On the fun-natured side of things, Westrick said he was particularly excited about Harley-Davidson finally having a presence at the world-famous rally that celebrates motorcycle culture and is rooted in the 1947 “invasion” of Hollister by the Boozefighters, a story retold in “The Wild One” starring Marlon Brando.
“You’re going to be able to take the newest model for a demo ride,” he said.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez in an interview with the Free Lance acknowledged how the city required less of a payment from the contracted promoter, Reno-based Roadshows, which runs the Street Vibrations event. That promoter has paid the $135,000 in full compared with the last promoter, Las Vegas-based ConvExx, which owed the city $90,000 when the city severed ties.
Velazquez acknowledged that the rally in 2016 must rebuild in a way after hiring a third promoter in the four years since he himself pushed for, and got, a motorcycle rally revival as part of a political campaign.
“I think it’s more of a starting point again and letting it develop from there,” he said.
Velazquez later added: “We lost the…early on we were the birthplace of the biker. It was a major destination.”

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