Key West didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for bikers taking part in a long-standing poker run over the weekend.
Instead of blocks filled with tricked-out motorcycles and classic Harley-Davidsons, visitors were greeted with barricades. City employees rolled out barricades along Duval Street to block bikers and anyone else from parking on Key West’s most famous street during one of the historically slowest months in the tourist season.
For the first time in its 45 years, Phil Peterson’s Poker Run didn’t finish in Key West, but at Boondocks restaurant located at mile marker 27.5. The first stop was Gilbert’s Resort in Key Largo.
Workers and business owners on Duval said turning the street into a no-parking zone — bikers were directed toward one of the city lots where they could park for $20 each — was a poor decision when it comes to entertaining guests and making money off a weekend event.
“You have taken money out of all of our pockets during September, the slowest month and the time we need it the most,” bar manager Jenn Stefanacci posted on her Facebook page in response to the city’s move. “Way to kick us while we are down.”
City Commissioner Sam Kaufman on Sunday sent out an email statement on the parking zone decision, saying it wasn’t good.
“Not good for business, not good for locals and not good for tourists,” he wrote. “The city of Key West needs to work out a compromise with the organizer of future Poker Run events whereby there are the appropriate agreements in place for an orderly, safe and fun event.”
“They erred on the side of public safety,” said City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, whose district includes lower Duval Street. “We still had to be prepared. I’m glad they did do something.”
Lopez said he hopes the city can craft a better plan next year but wouldn’t criticize city managers. “That may not get me votes but it’s a realistic point of view,” he said. “Sometimes you have to make these kinds of decisions.”
While Peterson’s blames last year’s canceled event on Hurricane Irma, it had been on hold and then canceled as organizers scrambled to find a nonprofit partner. The event costs at least $30,000 to close the street for two days.
Phil Peterson created the Keys poker run in 1971 as a way to bring business to the region during the slow tourism season. After his death, son Drew Peterson has kept it going.
City commissioners had approved the permits. Kaufman voted against it, saying the event attracts gang members. No application was submitted for this year’s event.
The Key West Sunrise Rotary in 2016 dropped its sponsorship of the event and a biker brawl at the Rumor Lounge downtown left some city leaders wary of allowing the event to continue.
Peterson’s, on its website, said it’s too much risk legally for someone to take on the closure of Duval. “The city of Key West did not want to take the risk even though the Poker Run brings millions of dollars in tourist spending, other revenue and subsequent taxes to the city.”
The four outlaw motorcycle gangs operating in Canberra are making a mockery of the ACT Government and putting the lives of Canberrans in ‘incredible danger’, according to the president of the Australian Federal Police Association, Angela Smith.
On the back of shocking footage released recently of a bikie shooting and arson attack at a Calwell home in June (shown below), the association has renewed its calls for anti-consorting laws in the ACT, saying there will be more shootings unless the laws are introduced.
“The footage of the bikies we saw last week in Calwell is yet another frightening reminder that it’s only a matter of time before an innocent member of our community is hurt or killed by this turf war,” Ms Smith said.
“The ACT government must act now and back up police by introducing laws to tackle this violent bikie menace.
“The Adler shotgun is an incredibly dangerous and powerful weapon, especially in the wrong hands.
“This won’t be the last shooting here in Canberra unless anti-consorting laws are introduced. This legislation only applies to people with criminal convictions.”
Ms Smith said there has been an influx of bikies into the ACT since tough anti-consorting laws have come into force in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
“NSW is getting tougher on outlaw bikie gangs by giving police additional police to target and disrupt their violent activities. It’s a stark contrast to the weak bikie laws we have here in the ACT, where gangs are free to roam and incite violence in our community,” Ms Smith said.
“It has been confirmed by ACT Policing that the ACT has four outlaw motorcycle gangs operating in Canberra: the Finks, Rebels, Comancheros and Nomads.
“These gangs are making a mockery of this government. And while the government stubbornly refuses to enact these laws it is putting the lives of Canberrans in incredible danger.”
Ms Smith said that the point of anti-consorting laws is to disrupt and break apart the gangs and their criminal activities.
“These laws make it difficult to function and force bikies to do their business outside of the ACT. We don’t want these gangs in our community.
“The ACT government has responded to further calls for anti-consorting laws by saying they are not going to simply follow suit with NSW,” Ms Smith said.
“The AFPA is not asking the ACT government to simply follow NSW. We are asking for laws to prevent gangs from congregating in our city.
“The ACT Government is dragging its feet and the community will pay the price.”
The Canberra Liberals have also renewed their calls for anti-consorting laws, which Opposition legal spokesman Jeremy Hanson said they have been calling for over the past nine years.
Last year, the Labor Party and the Greens voted down Mr Hanson’s Bill, to introduce anti-consorting laws and criminal control measures to stamp out Canberra’s bikie gang wars. The laws were drafted in consultation with the Human Rights Commissioner to allay concerns that other groups could be targeted.
“We strongly believe and the evidence is very clear that without anti-consorting laws we will continue to see a continuation of this bikie war which is raging through our suburbs,” Mr Hanson said today.
“The failure of the Greens and the Labor Party to introduce these laws is a disgrace and it will eventually lead to someone getting killed or seriously injured.”
A spokesperson for ACT Policing said they have had conversations with the Government regarding anti-consorting laws but the Government has indicated these are “off the table”.
“ACT Policing supports and encourages nationally consistent legislation – to deal with what is a national issue,” the spokesperson said.
“In regard to anti-consorting laws, those are tools that other jurisdictions have explored and implemented with some effect.
“Preventative powers should not be seen as a silver bullet, but we will continue discussions with Government to explore preventative powers which are proportionate and meet the community’s expectations.
“Further questions regarding anti-consorting laws are a matter for Government.”
A spokesperson for the ACT Government said that the government is not considering introducing anti-consorting laws.
“Even in jurisdictions where anti-consorting and other legislation is already in place, criminal gangs remain a problem,” the spokesperson said.
“The NSW Ombudsman’s report on anti-consorting found that it disproportionately affected vulnerable groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and children and young people, and there was no evidence to establish a measurable crime prevention benefit.
“The ACT Government is committed to introducing laws, and investing resources in methods, that are proven to combat crime and deprive gangs of the financial incentives that motivate their illegal activities.”
The Government spokesperson said that during its current term in office, the Government had invested millions of dollars into ACT Policing’s Taskforce Nemesis, which has to date charged more than 260 people, laid more than 740 charges and executed over 200 search warrants.
The spokesperson said that during the current term, the Government had also:
- strengthened police powers to set up a crime scene and preserve evidence
- provided funding to the Director of Public Prosecutions to seize criminal assets
- introduced laws to prevent gangs from putting in fortifications that could be used to hinder a lawful search by police.