Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 2021: Law Enforcement Officers Say It’s Busiest Rally in Years

by Leanne Stahulak

Nearly 700,000 were expected at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally this weekend. But even local law enforcement officers can’t believe how quickly the numbers piled up in the South Dakota town.

“There are more people here than in the 31 years I’ve been doing this,” Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin told Rapid City Journal.

The city hasn’t released the official number of visitors yet, but it’s sure to surpass last year’s 365,000 or so. And with that many more rowdy, passionate motorcycle enthusiasts in town, it’s no surprise that the police have been called more than ever this year.

On Friday alone, the sheriff’s office responded to 104 calls for service at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Most of them were for traffic stops or accidents. But Merwin said the number of traffic-related incidents doubled from last year, 22 to 41.

“I don’t know what it is this year, but it seems people are in a hurry to get here and are causing all kinds of traffic issues,” Merwin said. “We are asking the public to please follow our traffic laws and be safe out there.”

The other main offense seems to be open container violations. As of Saturday, Sturgis City Police already issued 207 citations for it. This is the first year that the City of Sturgis has allowed open containers in “certain downtown areas of Sturgis.” But there are certain stipulations.

Police Face Issues With New Open Container Rules At Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater told Rapid City Journal that no liquor is allowed in an open container, only beer or wine. Plus, participants have to drink out of purchased souvenir cups provided at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

“You can’t use cans or red cups. You must use the official souvenir cup purchased from the city and have a wrist band,” VanDewater said.

He said only two people have been arrested for open container violations. The rest cooperated when police told them they were violating the rules.

“Most everyone have been very understanding about it saying they didn’t know what the rules were,” VanDewater said. “They will pour out their drinks and then go purchase the souvenir cup. We’ve only had a couple of people who have not been cooperative.”

Between Friday and Saturday morning alone, police arrested 45 people at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a police report shows. More than half of those (26) resulted from traffic arrests, while 19 were non-traffic. Of the non-traffic arrests, seven resulted from drugs or drug paraphernalia issues. And three of those seven drug arrests were felonies.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally runs until Sunday, August 15. We’ll see how many more arrests and warning police issue by then. We’ll also know whether the event results in another surge of COVID-19 cases like it did last year.