Lone Star Rally brings more than 250,000 motorcycles and a half-million visitors to Galveston in the island’s largest yearly event, but the numbers don’t necessarily bring the rise in crime some might expect, police officials said.
“It’s Saturday, so we have about two days left, and we’ve only made three arrests during the event,” said Capt. Joshua Schirard, spokesman for the Galveston Police Department. “This is looking to be on par for last year, where we only made 10 arrests.”
Galveston police officers, as well as some SWAT officers, patrolled The Strand on Saturday and Schirard and several cadets surveyed events at the mobile command center in the newly constructed transit terminal, but despite the heavy presence, there hadn’t been much drama to report, Schirard said.
“This is always a great event,” Schirard said. “It’s a great crowd that actually does a lot of self-policing.”
It helps, of course, that the department has had 16 years to perfect its presence at the event, Schirard said.
“It’s incredible,” Schirard said. “Half a million people come here, but we’ve only had three arrests.”
The motorcycle rally, which organizers say is the largest four-day rally in the country, is one of the island’s biggest yearly economic drivers. City officials estimate the event brought about $115.6 million to Galveston in 2016.
Rather than the many visitors and motorcyclists, if police worry about anything this weekend, it’s mostly forces outside of the event, Schirard said.
“It’s coming not from the bikers, but people who might come because this is a target event with a large audience,” Schirard said. “That’s why we have SWAT guys with rifles patrolling.”
Officers also set up concrete barriers at each entrance to the rally on the off chance that anyone tries to drive a car through the pedestrian area, Schirard said.
Law enforcement officials weren’t the only ones to note how low key the event has been.
“I’m not immersed in the biker culture, but everyone has been great,” said Victoria Allyse, who came to Galveston for the event supporting a Chicago business. “You have this expectation about everyone being rowdy, but everyone has been nice.”
Repeat visitors for the rally were divided on how the crowd compared to years past, but agreed with Allyse’s assessment of their fellow attendees.
“I really like getting to see all the new people that come to this event from around the world and the bikes are sweet,” Houston resident Vidal Jackson said.
The combination of a 2015 gunfight in a Waco restaurant among two biker gangs and the police that killed nine people and injured 20 others and Hurricane Harvey has made attendance a little lighter than usual and a little more skittish, said Hank Novak, of Port Lavaca, who has attended Lone Star Rally for 13 years.
“It’s kind of slow,” he said. “Usually people are walking shoulder-to-shoulder by this point.”
Officers are monitoring the event to make sure everyone stays safe, Schirard said.
“Of all the people who come here and get a little drunk, few of those are unsafe,” Schirard said. “Burnouts, however, are a safety issue. We had someone do a burnout last year that sent three people to the hospital.”
While many in Saturday’s crowd were quick to comment on the friendly nature of the event, not everyone was quite convinced.
“Maybe it’s tame right now,” said Yolanda Montemayor, of Missouri City. “But Friday night it can get a little wild. We come to look at the merchandise, but usually have an early dinner and get to bed kind of early.”
Gary Pyzik, of Dallas, disagreed with Montemayor’s assessment, pointing out just how well-worked the event is.
“It seems a little better than in years past,” Pyzik said. “There are a lot of people working this event. Everyone is very friendly.”