Over 80 citations were issued to cyclists on Sunday as they set off from the pier up State Street in Santa Barbara during the unsanctioned Fiesta Bike Ride, also known as the Fiesta Cruiser Run, with an increased law enforcement effort that hasn’t been seen in recent years.
Twenty Santa Barbara police officers worked the bike ride on Sunday and followed the ride throughout the city. The department had announced last week that it intended to crack down on offenders running red lights and rolling through stop signs.
The event, which drew thousands of cyclists Sunday, has been a tradition for more than 30 years but is decentralized and doesn’t operate with the necessary permits.
“The level of complaints about the ride really came to a head last year” with many people reporting dangerous behavior from riders, Sgt. Riley Harwood said. “We really felt like we had to do something more to respond.”
In the end, 64 traffic citations were issued, as well as 12 municipal code citations, which would include offenses such as someone having an open container of alcohol, Harwood said.
No serious injuries were reported from Sunday’s event, and after the police presence was felt as riders left downtown, most of the riders did not go back down to the wharf after returning from Isla Vista as has happened in years past.
Additionally, five citations were issued by Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies to riders as they passed through the unincorporated portion of the ride, according to Kelly Hoover, Sheriff's Department spokeswoman.
The heavy police presence may become the norm, Harwood said.
“If the event continues unchanged, I would anticipate that this becomes our normal response,” he said. “It’s not what we would like. It’s the citizens of Santa Barbara that foot this bill.”
After being contacted by people from out of town who want to know if they should bring their kids to the event, Harwood said that if the event were to move from “that outlaw mentality” to a more mainstream Fiesta event, more people in the community might be more willing to be outwardly supportive.
The department has had experience with protests and marches, parades and marathons and other cycling events such as the Amgen Tour of California.
“These are all events where we help manage getting the participants to one part of city to another,” he said.
If someone were to assume responsibility for the event, Harwood said, they’d be able to sit down with the Police Department and work out a traffic plan so riders could safely move down the street without cars to contend with.
“If they don’t want to play by the rules, then we’re still going to enforce the law,” he said.
In terms of the larger Fiesta week, Friday and Saturday nights brought out the biggest crowds downtown, but Harwood said this year was relatively quiet. The statistics from Fiesta week seem to back that up.
Felony arrests were down 29 percent, from 34 issued during this year's Fiesta to 48 in 2012. Misdemeanor and DUI arrests were also both down this year.
Seventy-eight misdemeanor arrests were issued, down from 170 last year, and 14 DUIs were issued, down from 22 in 2012.
Traffic citations were up 40 percent, with 579 issued this year, up from 414 in 2012, and 135 officers were out on patrol on Saturday from a number of different agencies, and security remained high at many of the mercados around town, with officers working the crowds.
The Our Lady of Guadalupe Mercado had a private security company checking bags and patting down entrants before they could enter the church’s parking lot.
When events attract people from all over town, “it’s a chance for rival gang members to cross paths,” Harwood said.
“Part of that is because it’s the first impression, people get the idea that the activities are being monitored,” he said, and if they’re going to commit a crime “hopefully they’re inclined to go elsewhere.”
The block in front of the church on Nopal Street had also been blocked off in response to concerns about drive-by shootings.
The church and the city have taken increased safety measures in past years, including adding additional lighting outside the church.