Seattle Police Department Bicycle Patrol

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The Seattle Police Department is one of the pioneers of bicycle patrol, launching its small, two-officer Bicycle Patrol Unit in 1987. Patrol officers have navigated Seattle’s hilly cityscape on bicycles ever since.

(Learn more about the history of bicycle patrol below!) 

Like many other units, SPD’s Bicycle Patrol Unit has shifted and morphed to accommodate both changing patrol needs and the evolving priorities of the department. In late 2020, SPD formed the Community Response Group (CRG), to help improve 911 response times and manage the rising number of public demonstrations ongoing at the time. Being bike-trained is a prerequisite for CRG, so the Bicycle Unit was absorbed by the CRG, becoming an integral part of the new unit.  

It was a great fit for the bicycle officers, whose accessibility drives more interactions with community members. Being on a bike gives officers increased opportunity to establish rapport and build relationships with people from all walks of life, which is what community policing is all about.   

Initially, bicycle inventory, equipment, and maintenance were centralized at the West Precinct, to best accommodate the CRG, which is city-wide and not assigned to a specific precinct.

Now, in 2023, the CRG has further evolved to better meet Seattle’s needs. Its numbers are fewer, due to ongoing staffing shortfalls and an overall reduction in public demonstrations. Today, bikes are used for proactive patrol, narcotics enforcement, and as support during major incidents. They’re deployed during community events, including parades, concerts, and sports games, and are poised to assist with crowd management during planned demonstrations or as needs arise.   

Another change in 2023 was that bikes became decentralized and returned to the individual precincts. With that came the necessary training to ensure that each precinct has officers who know how to take care of them, including safety checks, preventative maintenance, diagnostics, and repairs. SPD purchases its bikes from a company called Volcanic Bikes, which was founded in Seattle and specializes in rugged, durable bikes meant to withstand the rigors of law enforcement.   

In late January 2023, SPD hosted Volcanic Bikes, which provided its mechanic class to a cadre of SPD officers from all the different precincts. This paved the way for bicycle inventory to return to each precinct, allowing bicycle patrol officers to cover a larger territory.

SPF has provided various financial support to the Bicycle Program over the years, investing in things like safer bicycle helmets, a vehicle mounted mountain bike rack,

and different bike-related training, including specialized crowd management training, advanced mountain bike skills, and more. These investments have supported both officer and community safety, and helped maintain SPD’s status as a frontrunner in both bicycle patrol and crowd management.

Most recently, in our 2022 grant cycle, we awarded a $1,200 grant to a West Precinct bicycle patrol officer for an 80-hour immersive, Spanish language course. We love any opportunity to ensure SPD’s ability to communicate with a broader contingent of the Seattle community and especially love seeing grant requests that improve public safety while demonstrating inclusivity. An officer’s ability to engage with community members who don’t speak English can help identify suspects, help victims/survivors of violent incidents, and ultimately help to solve crimes.  

Please explore the content below to learn more Seattle’s Bicycle Program and our previous investments in this iconic unit!

The Seattle Police Department Bicycle Patrol Unit was established in the summer of 1987.

Initially, the Unit was made up of only two officers, but quickly grew, as the department recognized the distinct advantages of using bikes in an urban setting. Bikes are nimble, can move quickly through tight spaces, and can often go where cars cannot. Moreover, in March of 1987, construction of the Metro Bus Tunnel broke ground, causing long-term traffic congestion in the downtown area.

Bikes were an excellent way to navigate traffic during the tunnel’s construction, to facilitate timely call response. The success of the small Unit led to the addition of two more officers. A squad was formed the following summer and Alki Beach began using bicycle patrol officers as well. While bicycle patrol units were implemented sporadically across the country in the 1970s and 80s, SPD is generally acknowledged as the pioneer of bicycle patrol as it was among the first to assign bikes to full-time, general patrol.

The city recognized the value of bike patrols, which offer increased opportunity for connection between police officers and members of the community.

SPD championed bicycle patrol and ultimately became a national model. Hundreds of police departments across the country have bike patrol units based on SPD’s original program. SPD remains a leader in bicycle patrol tactics today, offering its renowned bicycle officer training course to officers from law enforcement agencies across the state of Washington.

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The Seattle Police Department Bicycle Program is headed up by Officer Scott Luckie, who oversees the program in its entirety, including training new bicycle officers, bike repair and maintenance, and even assembling the new bikes when they arrive from the manufacturer.

Seattle’s bicycle officer training course is highly lauded with a well-earned reputation for being difficult. The 40-hour curriculum is both physically and mentally demanding, meant to test new riders and push them beyond their limits. Seattle is notoriously hilly, and its busy downtown core is tightly packed with people walking, driving, and biking. Frequent major events – sports and otherwise – bring tourism and traffic to all areas of the city, contributing to an already challenging urban environment.

Law enforcement from a bicycle can be rigorous and grueling. The training regimen is meant to emulate that environment so that officers get a taste of what it’s really like. In addition to a written test, there are multiple skills tests, including slow-speed riding, riding downstairs, riding over curbs, weaving through cones, quick turns, evasive emergency maneuvers, and more. The final challenge is a dynamic one-mile ride after which the officer is immediately faced with a (simulated) combative suspect.

The course helps officers build stamina and precision, all while learning how to operate a bicycle through the lens of law enforcement. It’s a tough class, and not everyone passes their first time through.

In 2018, we funded a grant to pay for an advanced mountain bike skills class to further develop SPD’s bicycle patrol officers’ skill level. This training gave SPD mountain bicycle officers the tools to accomplish their missions in a safer, more effective manner, thus helping them to deliver services to the Seattle community more efficiently.

In 2018, we funded a grant to purchase a bicycle rack for the South Precinct. Prior to that, they’d been using an ineffective van to transport bikes to deploy bicycle unit officers at different locations. The van was difficult to work with, especially when equipment and officers were in multiple locations.

SPF’s grant purchased a new bicycle rack built to accommodate nine SPD Mountain Bikes, which could then be rapidly deployed in any area of the South Precinct as needed. This helped to enhance patrol efforts in the community and made it easier for bicycle patrol officers to respond to calls for service.

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The Bell Super 2R helmet is cutting edge equipment that provides the necessary protection for police in riot and crowd control situations. The removable chin bar allows police officers to have just one helmet that can be used with or without the added face protection.

SPD bicycle patrol officers attended internationally recognized training in crowd management and control. These courses were developed by experts in the fields of police, EMS, and security cycling, and are used by public safety agencies around the world. Several SPD officers, some of whom are longtime veterans of the department, stated it was the best training they had ever attended.

As a result of this training, they were far more prepared for May Day 2015, which brought demonstrations that unfortunately turned violent, eventually becoming an all-out riot. Bicycle patrol officers at the time stated the training gave them the confidence and skills to execute crowd management maneuvers in a highly stressful environment, surrounded by a chaotic crowd determined to prevent the officers from being effective.

Photo by Joe Orsillo
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