Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: How Law Enforcement Is Preparing for 81st Annual Event

by Thad Mitchell

The 81st annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is coming back to the small town of Sturgis, South Dakota, this week for the 10-day festival.

Sturgis is a small city in the Black Hills of South Dakota with a year-round population just south of 7,000. Every year, the city sees thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts come to the city to take part in the event. The annual rally is an economic boost for the small town as motorcycle tourism stimulates the local economy.

The city of Sturgis and its city officials are generally welcoming of the bikers who come to their town. The townsfolk also know that with more people in the city, the chance of crime sharply increases. Sturgis city officials say the bikers are generally pretty friendly and respectful of their town. Nevertheless, they must prepare for the possibility of mischief as thousands pour into the city.

This year is a little different as Sturgis law enforcement officials will be on the lookout for outlaw gang activity. The 10-day festival is set to begin this Friday, August 6, and officials will have their eyes peeled. As this is the 81st annual motorcycle rally, some believe this will entice the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club to be out in full force. The number “81” is shorthand for the Hells Angels Bikers with “H” the eighth letter of the alphabet and “A” the first letter of the alphabet.

Sturgis Preparing for All Festival Scenarios

Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin says he and his staff are well aware of the situation and are making preparations. He says motorcycle festival-goers are generally respectful of local law enforcement and he hopes for the same this year. Still, the Sheriff and his deputies will be on the lookout for any suspicious activity.

Sturgis city officials are also preparing for the big festival by enacting a new beer ordinance. For the first time in its 81 years, rally participants will be able to walk the town with a beer in hand.

An opener container outside of a local establishment used to mean big trouble for the possesser of the container. Violators would often get a citation and a court date for breaking this law. That is no longer the case as the city ruled that open containers will be allowed at this year’s rally.

“Our hope is this will bring people outside onto the streets rather than crowding people in the bars,” Sturgis official Jerry Cole says. “It will hopefully get people out of the bar and walking along the streets to shops.”

If rally-goers want to carry their beverage outdoors, they will have to purchase a special commemorative cup. Cole says the cups are available all across the city and will cost bikers $10 to purchase one. Proceeds from sales of the cup will benefit a Sturgis nonprofit organization.