Open container change debut at Sturgis creates 1,600 verbal warnings, handful of citations, police chief says Original

STURGIS, S.D. (KELO) — There were more than 1,600 violations of the new open container allowance during the 10-day Sturgis Motorcycle Rally but only a fraction resulted in a citation, said Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater.

“(The majority) were all verbal warnings,” VanDewater said. The chief said six citations were issued.

The city already has an open container ordinance that allows for open containers of alcohol at other events in the city.

“Those are for a couple hours a day,” VanDewater said of open container use. This would be the first time it would be allowed over the 10 days of the rally, he said.

VanDewater said police didn’t want to tie up staff with lots of citations. “The goal wasn’t to ruin anybody’s fun,” he said. When police saw violations, it focused on education, the chief said.

“We worked with the establishments to educate them. We worked with the citizens to educate them,” VanDewater said.

In most cases, when police explained the new open container allowance, violators understood and complied, he said.

Violators who didn’t cooperate got a citation, VanDewater said.

VanDewater said most violations happened because attendees didn’t fully understand the ordinance or didn’t take time to fully read it.

“A lot of people didn’t read the fine print,” VanDewater said.

Attendees saw open container at the Sturgis Rally but didn’t learn that it applied to only beer and wine, and only with a specially a designated cup and in a restricted area, he said.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally’s open container zone for 2021.

Information shared by the city of Sturgis on the rally page of the city’s website said the city council decided to designate a specific container to be sold for open container purposes. The container could be used for beer and wine from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on each day of the rally.

The purpose, according to the city, was to create a friendlier atmosphere for attendees to walk between businesses in Sturgis.

The change or relaxation of the ordinance would allow for more social distancing outside of bars and similar businesses, according to the city.

The sale of special containers would also create a revenue stream for non-profits, according to the city.

Overall, VanDewater said the open container allowance was “pretty successful” but there is room for improvement.

“We didn’t see any major issues,” he said.

One of the goals of the city was to create a friendly, relaxed atmosphere in the downtown area of Sturgis, VanDewater said. But because people violated the open container ordinance there was actually more interaction with police, he said.

That’s one area to consider for 2022, he said.

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