VENTURA — When hundreds of Hells Angels arrive in town in two weeks atop their roaring Harleys for a party on St. Patrick's Day, local police will be watching.
Ventura Police Chief Richard Thomas said Wednesday that he hoped the scheduled "World Run" to celebrate the infamous motorcycle club's 50th anniversary would be peaceful, but that his department is ready if things get out of hand.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 6, 1998 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 5 Zones Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Hells Angels--A story Thursday incorrectly reported the outcome of a 1996 shootout that police said involved Hells Angels members in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Two men wounded in the incident survived.
"It's fair to say that we plan to beef up our staffing so that we can deal with any eventuality that may occur," Thomas said.
Don't worry, said George Christie Jr., president of the Ventura Hells Angels chapter.
The World Run is meant to be a party, Christie said, and nobody wants any trouble. Most of the riders will be arriving on Monday and stay through Wednesday, he said.
Estimates on how many of the motorcycle gang members will be riding into town range from a few hundred to more than 1,000, and Christie hopes Ventura will welcome them.
Although Thomas hopes the Angels will not cause trouble, he said the department is preparing for their arrival.
Along with increasing staffing, the department may tap into other county law enforcement agencies if needed, Thomas said.
In addition, department officials have contacted other cities that have had similar gatherings.
Close to 50,000 bikers showed up in the tiny Northern California town of Hollister last July to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the takeover of the town by a Los Angeles motorcycle club called the Boozefighters. That gathering came off without much trouble and only about 50 arrests.
But other runs haven't been so peaceful.
During a mass ride to Sturgis, S.D., two years ago, a Ventura Hells Angels member was suspected of shooting to death two Hells Angels from the San Fernando Valley during a fight in the ski town of Steamboat Springs, Colo. No arrests were made.
In talking to other cities that have had mass Hells Angels gatherings, Thomas said he was told to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
"I've found that where jurisdictions have beefed-up law enforcement presence they have not had problems," he said. "Where they haven't, they have had problems."
But local authorities say they do not plan on targeting riders heading into town.
"We're not going to do anything that we would not normally do to enforce the law," Thomas said. "If we see a traffic violation, we may write a ticket, but we're not going to go out of our way to do that."
Last September, Simi Valley police arrested six people, issued 45 traffic citations and gave 27 verbal warnings to bikers during a charity ride sponsored by the Hells Angels.
Lawyers for the club later filed an $11-million civil rights lawsuit, claiming Angels had been unfairly targeted for selective enforcement by the department. A U.S. District Court judge last week dismissed one of the three complaints against the city.
Thomas said his department is interested in "maintaining public order" and that he will be happy as long as things stay peaceful.
"If we only have to make a few arrests, I'll consider that a success," he said.