In early 1987, the Seattle Police Department was faced with a rising crime rate, due in part to major construction in the downtown area. The construction brought downtown traffic to a standstill, which hampered the effectiveness of officers in patrol cars. There were officers on foot patrol downtown, but they could not keep up with the increasing amount of crime. Officer Paul Grady did some rooftop surveillance, watching criminals and other foot officers, and noticed that wherever the officers went, the crime would move around the block. The obvious answer seemed to be the mountain bike. The mountain bike allowed an officer to ride with stealth and speed, without sacrificing the ability to descend stairs, jump curbs, or quickly dismount with little or no damage to the bike. Officers Paul Grady and Mike Miller met with the vice-president of the Raleigh Cycle Company of America. He donated four of Raleigh’s newest mountain bikes to the police department. On July 10, 1987, Officers Grady and Miller rode into downtown Seattle as the first ever police mountain bike patrol. There success was immediate. Within 30 minutes, the officers made three felony narcotics arrests. In their first month, they made 500 misdemeanor arrests – five times the average for foot patrols.
In the subsequent years policing by mountain bike took off exponentially. By the early 1990’s there were believed to have been trained some 10,000 bike patrol officers nation wide. In September 1993 Sgt. Paul Grady held the first national instructor-training seminar at the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle. Some 27 Law Enforcement Bicycle Association Instructors were “born.” Bend, Oregon was the site of the second LEBA National Instructor School. It was here that the concept of a Board of Directors was explored. Who would make up that Board? What would its purpose be that was not already satisfied by the work of Paul Grady? The answers came over the ensuing years, as the Board developed and took on more and more of the operational end of the association. By the end of 1996 Paul decided he was ready for a well-earned break from the day-to-day operations of LEBA, and the Board had become a cohesive unit. In 1997, with Jose Dominguez as the newly elected President, Matt Lewis as Vice President, John Fox as Secretary and Training Coordinator, Jared Katz as Treasurer, and Karl Odenthal and Dave Kishbaugh as “members at large” we proceeded to incorporate and become the first 501(c)(3) non-profit police bicycle training company in the country (perhaps the in the world). Jared Katz led the association through the process, working through the reams of paperwork for the filings, and meeting endlessly with an attorney to develop articles of incorporation and bylaws. In the end, the Board was formalized and took on new responsibilities. LEBA no longer filed through a personal social security number but had its own Federal Tax Identification Number. The Board’s numbers grew from five to nine, which allowed us greater depth and experience. The Board of Directors now consists of four Officers (President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary, four Members-at-Large and the Training Coordinator. In its history, the LEBA has trained nearly 1,000 officers per year in the contiguous United States, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, Canada, Ireland and the former Yugoslavia. While many officers have transitioned out of bike patrol, many more continue to seek training in the hundreds of police departments supporting this once-controversial method of patrol.
Bike patrol has many benefits. Bikes can be used in heavily congested areas or in urban areas. Downtown areas seem to be the most common arena for Bike Patrol Officers. Bike Patrol officers can respond much quicker than a patrol car in these types of settings. In many downtown areas, bike patrol officers are solely responsible for patrolling and answering calls. They are also utilized to patrol outdoor festivals, fairs and other public events. Bike patrol officers have the advantage of stealth and speed when conducting surveillance investigations. It is very easy to hide the bike and the officer in order to watch persons conducting suspected criminal activity. Bike patrol officers can easily be relocated to remote areas by vehicle, and then patrol that area on bike. Some examples include searching for missing persons, targeting areas where burglaries are on the rise, and assistance to emergency operations (natural disasters, crowd control, etc.) Additionally, in this age of “community policing,” a bike patrol officer is much more accessible to a citizen than a patrol car driving by.
Most maintenance problems are related to the bike being dirty. Bike patrol officers should be responsible for preventative maintenance. This includes pre-ride inspections, cleaning the chain, fixing flats and washing the bike as needed. The following list is the basic items needed for preventative maintenance and tools to make repairs in the field so that you can get back home:
- Chain cleaner
- Degreaser or chain cleaning fluid
- Chain lube
- Bike washing supplies
- Toothbrush or chain cleaning brush
- Dawn dishwashing detergent
- Clean rags
- Tire levers and patch kits for fixing flats
- Chain tool to fix a broken chain
- Hex wrench
- Multi-tool (a multi-tool can combine tire levers, a chain tool and a hex wrench into one tool) Some departments train a couple of bike officers as bike mechanics who can handle most of the repairs.
Other departments will contract with a bike shop. It is more cost effective for a larger, full time unit to train officers as mechanics, provide the tools and keep an inventory of parts than to contract with a shop. A bike officer/mechanic can make immediate repairs. This allows the officer to get back on the street with little down time. Staffing hours are not lost getting the bike to the shop and waiting for the repair (which could be 1 hour to several days.) There are several bicycle maintenance schools available. Some can be found locally through your bike shop and there are a couple of nationally know schools (United Bicycle Institute and Barnett Bicycle Institute.) LEBA is currently developing a maintenance course designed for the bike patrol officer. Park Tools, the industry leader in bicycle maintenance tools, has a very comprehensive list of tools on their website at www.parktools.com.
Bikes can be stored in many different ways. If a spare office or storeroom is available, the bikes can be hung on the wall or from the ceiling or put in racks. A shed can be built outside to house them or the officer can be allowed to take his/her bike home for storage. You are only limited by your imagination and facilities. Regardless of how or where you store it, the most important thing to remember is don’t store the bike outside, unprotected in the elements. That will send the bike to an early grave. The chain will rust, the cables will become corroded, the finish can be damaged and the saddle will likely by cracked and torn.
- Uniform Shirt/Shorts/Pants:
- Uniform shirts for patrol can be of several different styles and there are several manufactures that make bike patrol specific uniforms. There are the very simple and inexpensive polo shirts emblazoned with your department’s logo and “POLICE” on the back, and there are the broadcloth shirts with cool max or mesh under the arms for ventilation. These shirts are uniform style with two breast pockets, badge placket, epaulets and collar mike tab and come in short sleeves and long sleeves.
- Uniform shorts are available from several different manufacturers and can be padded themselves or not. They may have cargo pockets either Velcroed or zippered, and often come with built in keepers. Typically they are constructed of Supplex, a thin, quick drying nylon which is very light and comfortable.
- Uniform pants are designed much like the shorts mentioned above. They are usually made of Supplex in the rear and Ultrex, a breathable waterproof nylon, or something similar in the front. The pants should provide all the flexibility you need to perform your duties. They should not bind at the knee, or be too snug. An inexpensive way for some departments to go is with BDU style pants. While they are not designed specifically for cycling, they will suffice when money is short.
- Uniform Jackets are also made of Supplex or Ultrex. They can come with zip-out liners, zip-out sleeves or zip-out boleros. The jacket should be constructed with a longer tail, or roomier shoulders so the waist does not rise up when you are bent over riding. They often come with keepers built into the waist.
- Padded cycling shorts: Padded cycling shorts are worn directly against the skin and under uniform shorts. They are designed to fit snugly and provide protection against chafing and against discomfort from the saddle. A good pair of eight panel shorts worn under the uniform, will go a long way to making a full shift a comfortable experience. In general, wicking materials such as coolmax work best for summertime riding. Bright visible colors are also important for safety while riding. For winter riding, Gore-tex and other water-resistant materials do a good job. Dress in layers and remember to keep the head, hands, and feet warm. Invest in waterproof gloves and socks. Helmet covers are also available and assist in keeping the head dry. LEBA endorses and uses Olympic Uniforms. Please visit their website at www.olyuniforms.com for more information. You can also check with Patrol Bike Systems at www.patrolbike.com. They have an array of cycle clothing an accessories.
- Footwear: You must have proper footwear. There really is no room for substitutes when it comes to the only things you have for walking, riding and running. Improper shoes can cause a lifetime of problems for you and your department. To some extent, what you wear on your feet depends on what you have for pedals. However, no matter what your pedals are, you need a stiff soled well fitting shoe that you can ride in all day, and still be able to walk (or run). Some departments use lightweight hiking shoes, which allow comfortable walking as well as a solid platform for riding. However, there are few, which are produced in black, which is often required by policy. On the other hand, most patrol shoes won’t fit in toe clips. One exception is the Devil Shoe, by Diadora. This is a black ¾ height shoe with a steel reinforced sole. It is outfitted to accommodate SPD cleats if you’re running clipless pedals and costs about $75.00. Another option with clipless pedals is the Specialized Ground Control which comes in black and retails for around $80.00.
- Helmets: Helmets are a must. There are no if ands or buts about it. To ride means to wear a helmet. Technology has brought us a long way from the motocross types available in the seventies, through the spaceman bubble head units from the eighties, to the light weight, stylish well ventilated models available today. The best kind have a thin “micro-shell,” which protects the sub helmet material from damage. Some older helmets may consist of just the polystyrene sub helmet and a mesh or fabric. If you have this type helmet, don’t ride with it. Appreciate the fact that it’s an antique and go buy a new helmet. Helmets should be SNELL, ASTM and or ANSI approved, and should fit the rider. Visors are now often part of the package. Visors have several benefits for police officers. They cut down on glare, can reduce sunburn on your nose and help keep rain off your glasses.
- Glasses: Glasses are necessary to protect you from eye injury. Probably the best type is the wrap around kind made with ballistic quality polycarbonate lenses. There are myriad varieties and price ranges with some very inexpensive options. Officers should have at least one clear pair. Some prices start as low as $17.00 for “Tactical Line” glasses, and others around $25.00 on pro-forms.
- Gloves: Gloves are a matter of preference, though they are highly recommended for safety and comfort. There are gloves with foam padded palms, those with gel padding, and some which rely on the material of the glove itself for padding. It is important that whatever glove you purchase you are able to all the things you need to – turn a cuff key, use your firearm – while wearing them.
- Cold weather gloves are available in neoprene, Gore Tex lined, and a variety of other styles. It ‘s a good idea to have more than one pair of gloves as they are bound to get damp through use.
The goal of any bike training program should be to provide a professional and safe alternative patrol method to facilitate the reduction of crime and the fear of crime, increase livability, and strengthen police-community relations. The program should include methods to:
- Research and develop safe and effective standards of training for officers and supervisors, based on new techniques, equipment and local and national trends.
- Provide leadership in the local and regional law enforcement community in regards to bike training and implementation.
- Coordinate the training of officers and supervisors, and to ensure and maintain the standardization of uniforms and equipment.
- Provide fiscally responsible maintenance and repair, based upon industry standards.
- Be attentive to the needs of the community and the organization to more effectively implement the use of bikes as an alternative patrol method to enhance the police presence in the community.
The training program needs to be based upon nationally accepted standards and practices, modified for the host agency, and the lesson plans should be certified by local and state agencies. Organization members need to be safe and effective while using a bike for patrol, and the public expects professional behavior and ability. Bike training needs to incorporate firearms and defensive tactics procedures as well as patrol tactics. It is important to remember when developing a program, that the bike officers will be making five times the citizens contacts and three times the arrests that an officer assigned to patrol in car will make.
The most obvious result of using bikes as an alternative patrol method is that bikes are cheaper than cars. It is important to be realistic when forecasting costs to the organization. A quality bike needs to be considered. Do not ask for more bike than you need. Try to go with a “police model” if the specifications meet your specific requirements. Include the cost of “professional” repair and maintenance. If you are sending a member to repair school, consider that cost. You will still need vehicles to transport bikes and equipment and to provide custody transport. Specific uniforms that allow for comfort and safety will be an additional expense. Helmets, gloves and eye protection should be provided and kept in good repair. Do not forget the benefit that healthy and fit bike officers provide to the organization in less health care costs. Consider the cost of a storage and shop area, tools, spare parts and equipment. Based upon the lesson plan for your organization, what are the costs to screen potential bike officers, train them and maintain their skills.