Police credit visible presence for little trouble at Bikefest

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LEESBURG — It may be a slight exaggeration, but police say you have to go out of your way to get arrested at Bikefest. If you really want to be fitted with stainless steel bracelets, there will be plenty of officers on hand to help.

“It’s a laid-back event and people don’t get ridiculously drunk,” said Leesburg Police Lt. Scott Mack. “You can usually count the number of arrests downtown on one or two hands,” he said.

Not bad, considering 150,000-plus motorcycle enthusiasts pour into the three-day event from Friday through Sunday.

“We have a very visible presence and an approachable presence,” Mack said.

Planning is everything, says Mack and Joe Shipes, executive vice president of the Leesburg Partnership, which puts on the event every year. Officially, planning begins in January, but it really takes place year-round, including looking at events around the country and the world.

 
 
 
 

Rescue workers and law enforcement plan everything from minor first-aid to a full-scale disaster, Shipes said.

Bikefest has come a long way from the days when Lake-Sumter EMS parked an ambulance and a handful of Leesburg officers kept an eye on things, Mack said.

Like last year, Lake County sheriff’s deputies will join with officers from Fruitland Park, Lady Lake, Howey-In-The-Hills and Wildwood. Every Leesburg office will be on duty as the department patrols 24-hours a day. Leesburg and the Lake County Fire Rescue Departments are part of the rescue team, along with EMS.

This year, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is assisting with cameras to monitor the biggest gathering spots.

Mack did not want to disclose the number of law enforcement officers.

Mack, who has been involved with all but one Bikefest in its 22 years, is always amazed at the wide mix of people at the event.

“Even the motorcycle riders, they are all across the board. There are doctors and lawyers, people of all kind, not just in the United States but the world,” he said.

As for professional trouble-makers, “We keep an eye on these groups,” he said.

Last year, members of the Outlaws motorcycle club allegedly killed a rival gang member at a convenience store on West Main Street, several miles from the actual Bikefest event.

Unfortunately, that could happen anywhere in the state, Mack said. The fact that it didn’t happen inside the Bikefest venue area is a testament to the beefed-up security in that area, he said.

There are always a few people who end up on the wrong side of the law, Mack said.

“They usually had opportunities to avoid being arrested,” he said.

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