Recycled as Cyclists, Seattle's Posse of Bike-Riding Crime Fighters Put Their Mettle to the Pedal
Two Adam 91,” squawks the radio on Seattle police officer Paul Grady’s belt. “Report of a fight at Western and Union.” Grady glances at his three fellow cops. “We’ve got it,” he snaps. With that, the four of them are off, heading to the scene at maximum speed—bringing their white 18-speed bicycles to a brisk 24 mph.
Pedaling furiously, the cops swing down Pine to First, turn left through a red light and into Pike Place Market, pick up speed on a downgrade and coast the last three blocks. In just one minute after the radio call, they come wheeling up in time to collar a young tough carrying $467 and a small quantity of marijuana. The disturbance, says Grady, writing up a citation, was “probably over drugs.” A gaggle of onlookers gathers to watch the wheels of justice in action. “Wow,” says a bystander in awe, “you guys really make time on those bikes!”
That they do. Operating with a combination of stealth and speed, the Seattle Police Department’s bike-borne Adam Squad has been putting the brakes on crime since last summer. “The element of surprise is incredible,” says Grady. “We can cover a block in five seconds, and we’re on them. At least 30 times this summer we’ve ridden right up and taken the dope out of people’s hands.” The squad’s four officers form what may be the first new bike patrol in a U.S. city since the constabulary began its love affair with the horseless carriage about 80 years ago. Statistics indicate that the reinvented concept still works. After only three months on the streets, Seattle’s Adam Squad has already set records, achieving a dramatic increase in downtown arrests.
Currently the construction of an underground bus tunnel has turned Seattle’s inner city into a motorist’s nightmare; the construction debris and closed-off streets have made it also a haven for vagrants and junkies. Patrolling over potholed streets and an un-paved area of waterfront, the squad, on its lightweight two-wheelers, moves quickly and quietly and adds an element of total surprise. “The other day we got a report of a car prowl [a break-in] in progress,” says policewoman Maurine “Mo” Stich, 26. “We rode up to the parking lot, and the prowler looked up at us on bikes and went right back to what he was doing. It just didn’t register with him that we were cops. All he could say over and over was, ‘That’s not fair, that’s not fair.’ ”
The Adam Squad originated last July at the urging of Grady, 30, and Mike Miller, 35, longtime pals from Portland, Ore., who joined the Seattle police together three years ago. As recreational riders, they felt that bikes could be more effective than cars on traffic-clogged streets, and persuaded Precinct Capt. Jim Deschane to give it a try. In the first month, a fired-up Grady and Miller pedaled to 500 misdemeanor arrests, five times the average for Seattle police partners.
At first the pair used borrowed bikes which gradually failed under hard use. Through a dealer, Grady and Miller cajoled the Raleigh Cycle Co. in Kent, Wash., into donating first two, then four rugged, top-of-the-line bikes worth $525 apiece, to which the cops added about $150 in useful accessories such as racks and water bottles.
Mo Stich, two years a policewoman and also a recreational biker, signed on with Grady and Miller in September. They were joined a month later by Jerry Beem, 49, nicknamed “Beemer,” a 22-year veteran of the force who admits he was feeling the onset of burnout. “I hadn’t been on a bicycle in 35 years, but I needed a challenge,” he says. A three-pack-a-day smoker, Beem quit cold turkey after puffing through his first day in the saddle, and claims to have lost 20 pounds since from all the exercise.
While covering an average of 20 miles a day, the squad has developed a special protocol for cycle operations. Whatever the temptation to play Hopa-long Cassidy, they won’t do any shooting while still in the saddle, but will always dismount before drawing their guns. (One drawback of bicycling duty is that the Adam Squad has had to discard its bulletproof vests, finding them too confining and hot.) When required to pursue suspects on foot, the bikers secure their expensive transport from theft with extra pairs of handcuffs. Should they need to take a prisoner to jail, they radio for a backup car.
The officers patrol only in daylight, usually in pairs, and are limited to dry weather operations until fenders are fitted to their bikes. So far the cycling cops have had no accidents, although they did contribute to one mishap when a curious driver was involved in a collision while ogling the team.
The squad has had to put up with a certain amount of snickering, particularly from station-house colleagues who still think bicycles are for kids. The hooting increased after team members received permission to wear shorts on the job during the summer. “I don’t care, they’re just jealous,” says Beem with a shrug. Indeed, the bikers have been a public relations coup for the Seattle police, attracting hordes of gawking tourists over the summer. They pose patiently for photos and sign autographs, even as they wince at impoverished witticisms like “Hey, will you look at those legs!”
Most public reaction to the bikes has been overwhelmingly favorable. “It’s not the old negative you used to get when a patrol car pulled up,” says store owner Bryan Johnson. “These guys bring smiles to people’s faces when they ride by.” Captain Deschane sees benefits for his officers, too. “The best thing about this program is that it’s done wonders for morale,” he says. “These cops usually deal in a very depressing world of homeless or street people, and biking is something fun for them.”
Budgetary red tape may delay Deschane’s hopes for an expanded 12-bike squad, but a merchants’ group has partly filled the gap by chipping in for two more Raleighs. Ironically, even as the notion of pedal-pushing policemen gains wider acceptance—Hawaii and Oregon are interested in starting similar squads—founding Adam Squad member Mike Miller is slated for promotion to the traffic division, where he will ride, yes, a motorcycle. Never mind. More than 20 other Seattle cops have applied to be Miller’s replacement.