Hollister Police Chief Jeff Miller warns City Council members
that he can’t guarantee adequate public safety for future
Hollister – In a comprehensive report on the 2005 motorcycle rally, Hollister’s police chief said due to the increasing “adult” nature of the event, the potential for violence between outlaw motorcycle groups and skyrocketing costs for cops, he cannot guarantee adequate police staffing in the future.
Police Chief Jeff Miller’s report on the Hollister Independence Rally, which he presented to City Council
members Monday, highlighted a number of concerns ranging from the possible confrontation between rival motorcycle clubs the Mongols and the Hells Angels – who engaged in a violent and fatal clash in Laughlin, Nev. in 2002 – to increased public nudity and merchandise which “may not necessarily promote an image with which the city wishes to be associated.” He also discussed the uncertainty surrounding the city’s ability to secure and pay for enough officers from outside agencies to help patrol the event. Miller referenced the reduced staffing within departments around the state and what he believes is an increased potential for violence from the outlaw bikers.
“Most important is the total public safety issue. I can’t overstate how close we were to having a repeat of Laughlin. If those people (Mongols and Hells Angels) would have gone to fighting there would have been such a problem that I shudder to think about the fallout,” Miller said. “We’ve turned a corner on this one. The gauntlet has been thrown down and we have to prepare for a Laughlin-type incident, and I can’t guarantee we have the staffing to meet that risk.”
But Hollister Independence Rally Committee Acting President John Loyd said he was disappointed Miller spent so much time focusing on the 200 to 300 attendees who could have posed a serious problem when there were more than 100,000 people at the event who steered clear of trouble and had a good time. Loyd focused on statistics in the chief’s report showing overall crime rates were down within the rally venue – a 25 percent drop from 2004 – and the substantial boost local businesses get from the throngs of people who come to Hollister. He believes the chief is simply trying to scare the City Council into canceling the rally – which Miller denied.
“The City Council was told of the 2002 incident in Laughlin, Nevada, concerning the Mongols and the Hells Angels, and the potential for trouble during the Hollister Rally,” Loyd said. “What the chief didn’t mention was the fact that both clubs have members living in Hollister year round. Any perceived animosity between those two clubs does not require a rally.”
But Miller disagrees, saying the Mongols’ presence this year is a direct challenge to the Hells Angels, who see the rally as their event. About 300 Hells Angels attended the rally this year, but between 30 or 40 members of the Mongols arrived and made their way through the downtown event arena wearing their “colors,” jackets and vests with the group’s logo emblazoned on the back. About 60 California Highway Patrol officers positioned themselves between the two groups and a confrontation was averted, Miller said.
The Hollister Police Department learned a number of Mongol members would be attending the rally about three weeks before the event, and asked the CHP to provide additional officers to mitigate the possible risk posed by the two groups, Miller said. Due to the emergency public safety concerns that arose just prior to the rally, the CHP – which accrued a total cost for service of $363,000 – only charged the city approximately $72,000, Miller stated in his report.
“There is no guarantee that the CHP will again provide such assistance without remuneration,” Miller stated in the report. “In such case, expenses for the rally would likely exceed $600,000.”
Loyd conceded there is no way HIRC, which ended 2004 significantly in the red, could pay double the amount it usually pays for law enforcement. However, he said HIRC directors are working with local state legislators to find ways to mitigate law enforcement costs for future rallies.
“I think the City Council got a very one-sided perspective,” Loyd said, and added that HIRC members will rectify that with direct dialogue with council members. Part of that discussion will include providing council members with an economic impact study including San Benito and surrounding counties that will quantify the financial impact the rally has on the community.
But Miller insists he’s simply doing his job of informing the city’s policy makers – who have the power to cancel the rally if they choose – of the risks and concerns law enforcement officials have.
“I’m trying to give them an accurate and realistic picture of what goes on. It would be wrong of me to withhold information, to cover up something or sugar coat something,” Miller said. “So I’m telling them, ‘This is what we saw, this is what happened.'”
Miller also gave a detailed description of some shops selling sexually explicit rally merchandise and stated women were seen throughout the event arena exposing themselves.
Although Hollister City Councilman Robert Scattini described the report as “bleak,” he wasn’t turned off from the rally and said the thought of canceling it never entered his mind. While he conceded there were some shops hawking obscene merchandise, he said he didn’t see any nudity and doesn’t believe it pervaded the entire event.
“I’m going to give the thing a full shake,” Scattini said. “Hollister needs something to boost the economy. I’ve been around a long time and I know what I think is good for the community. If it wasn’t for that rally some businesses today would be drying up.”
Scattini also questioned whether canceling the event would do more harm than good, considering many bikers consider Hollister as the Mecca of motorcycles on the West Coast – a sentiment Loyd echoed.
“HIRC paid staff and volunteers put a significant number of hours into making the rally as safe and organized as possible,” Loyd said. “Imagine the impromptu, unplanned chaos that will occur if the city doesn’t approve the rally for 2006. Mutual aid from other jurisdictions cannot be planned or scheduled, and it is likely to be too little too late if thousands of motorcycles roll into town for a rally that isn’t here.”