Police presence ‘excessive’ at Merritt rally, says Fairfield
After receiving feedback from bikers over the last two weeks about last month’s Great Canadian Bike Rally, organizer Mike Fairfield said the police presence was excessive.
“We’ve just been inundated with complaints about the policing,” he said. “There needs to be something more appropriate for a community event like this.”
He said no complaints were lodged last year about the force, but he was concerned more officers would be present this year.
“Without our knowledge, they went ahead and did that and it, unfortunately, turned a lot of people away,” he said. “We got tons of emails and phone calls.”
Fairfield cited general discrimination against bikers.
After the event, police identified four biker gangs that were in town, including a Hells Angels vendor. Fairfield said he only became aware that the vendor was Hells Angels after they set up their display.
Complaints against RCMP officers ranged from slamming an elderly woman’s head into cement, to shining a flashlight that was too bright into a biker’s eyes, “which could have blinded me and caused me to crash into the officer,” said a biker who attended a City of Merritt public meeting on Tuesday.
But as the man in charge of organizing police at the rally, Merritt RCMP Sgt. Norm Flemming said only those who were breaking the law were harassed.
“Everyone found breaking the law was to receive some form of harassment, which was appropriate to what they were doing,” he said, adding that Fairfield was well aware of how many officers there would be. “The story of our knocking down an 83-year-old woman and grinding her head into the cement remains just that, a story.”
Neither him nor his bosses have received a complaint about this or any other type of treatment, despite a person claiming people filmed the attack.
“I find it hard to believe that in this day and age anyone, let alone an 83 year old, was [filmed] receiving such brutal treatment and it did not make the nightly news.”
Instead of this claimed type of harassment, he said anyone drinking outside of a designated area received police harassment in the form of a lecture, a ticket or both, and then had their drink poured out.
Those who were drunk and disturbing others went to jail for the night.
Younger offenders were taken home to their parents, he added. Those drinking and driving had that privilege taken away.
The Merritt RCMP normally handles between 75 and 90 calls for service on a typical weekend.
Organizers estimated an additional 16,000 to 20,000 people would be in town for the rally, so police adjusted their force based on that preliminary number.
“It isn’t reasonable to assume that if you triple the population, add in all-day music, afternoon beer gardens and a nighttime rock concert with liquor service, that we could effectively and safely manage that by ourselves,” he said.
Those numbers were given to police by organizers, which means if they undershoot expectations, there could be more police than needed.
As it turned out, the rally attracted between 10,000 to 15,000 people, according to Fairfield. When questioned by city council at the public meeting, he said 1,500 people purchased tickets to the main stage on Thursday, 2,000 on Friday and 2,500 on Saturday.
While Flemming requested 14 additional officers and four extra vehicles, budget restraints meant he had to reduce the number to 10 additional officers.
A lower attendance led Flemming to send officers home.
“If I needed more [officers] than I have, though, it’s really hard to get them on short notice,” he said.
The local RCMP responded to 253 calls over the weekend, “and we simply couldn’t have done that by ourselves.”
Flemming said crowds were slow at first but then picked up gradually as each night progressed. Night officers reported “reasonable-sized crowds.”
Last year’s ratio of officers was one for every 500 people, while this year was one for every 800.
The bike rally was held from July 12 to 15.