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2015-09-24

DPS presence - Bandera's boon or bust?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Due to a "potential for violence," administrators with Texas Department of Public Safety beefed up patrols during the recent Rumble on the River Motorcycle Rally. Nothing happened during the three-day event - especially not the expected influx of visitors to local restaurants, retailers, bars and other businesses.
"I wouldn't be surprised if sales tax isn't off by 70 percent in Bandera," said James McGroarty, owner of the 11th Street Cowboy Bar. "This was the worst bike rally weekend in the history of 11th Street."
According to Chief Deputy Matt King, of the Bandera County Sheriff's Office, DPS administrators had received credible intelligence stating that there was a "potential for violence" between the Banditos and Cossacks during the rally. In May, a clash between the rival motorcycle gangs left nine people dead, 18 hospitalized and over 175 arrested in Waco.
Prior to the riot, law enforcement apparently issued a bulletin that warned of a possible conflict, which stemmed in part from the Cossacks claiming the Lone Star State as part of their territory, indicated by placing "Texas" on the bottom rocker of their vests.
Although the melee occurred in the spring, an investigation has turned up little in the way of hard evidence as to what actually occurred - except 12 of the bullets fired that day were from service revolvers of three law enforcement officers. And no one has been indicted for the deaths or injuries.
In an interview on Monday, Sept. 21, King said that a federal agency issued an intelligence bulletin related to the rally in Bandera and, as a precaution, DPS increased patrols - possibly as many as 16 extra vehicles per shift.
"They opted to supply extra staff from Friday through Sunday (Sept. 18-20)," King said. "In situations like this, we'll take all the help we can get. We're a small agency and don't have the manpower that might be needed during something of this magnitude."
He also said that both rival gangs had registered to have booths during the motorcycle rally at Mansfield Park.
However, a massive law enforcement presence can be a double-edged sword to a town that depends heavily on tourist dollars.
McGroarty said. "This could be the biggest 'kiss of death' to this community that could ever happen." He added, "Don't get me wrong, I'm a big supporter of law enforcement but it has to do with overkill in the number of officers deployed this past weekend."
According to McGroarty, during motorcycle rallies his entertainment venue usually averages 1,400 to 1,600 patrons on Friday night. "Last Friday night we had 213 customers and by the next morning, everyone had pulled out because they didn't want to be harassed and intimidated."
He continued, "I had two off-duty officers working security at my bar and they knew this was coming. There were also six DPS patrol vehicles parked on 11th Street and four officers walking down the street. I regard that as a problem."
Additionally, during the weekend, McGroarty's watering hole also played host to "agents with the FBI gang task force and ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), K-9 units and a couple of undercover agents. I know they were from the FBI because they showed me their IDs."
McGroary speculated that an informant from Austin had reported that something was "coming down this weekend in Bandera" between the Banditos and Cossacks. However, a Facebook post indicated that the (Texas) Banditos had been directed to participate in a mandatory national run to Austin. "As far as I could tell there were just a handful of Banditos here," McGroarty said. "I think DPS was misinformed."
Most bikers, he said, left Bandera by Saturday morning. "A lot rode to Fredericksburg and spent their money at market days," McGroarty said.
King noted that motorcycle rally organizers were unhappy with the increased law enforcement presence in Bandera. "But if that's what we need to do to keep our citizens safe, then that's what we'll do," King said.
For the record, however, he noted that the six arrests credited to DPS troopers seemed a little scant for the entire weekend - and the level of increased DPS presence.
For his part, McGroarty regretted the "tens of thousands of dollars" lost by merchants. As he said, "Bikers stay in RV parks and motels; they eat in restaurants; they buy western clothes and boots; and they gas up their bikes at service stations, but not this time. If anyone thinks business was good in Bandera last weekend, they don't know anything about business."