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18-speed pursuit. Cops on bikes

By Nita Kurmins GilsonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 19, 1988


THE driver of the stolen car probably didn't have time to realize what happened. Sandwiched anonymously in gridlock traffic in downtown Seattle - no police vehicles in sight - he probably felt safe.

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What the thief didn't know about was the city's police bicycle squad. Alerted to the whereabouts of the hot car, four officers began pedaling, swiftly threading their way through the bumper-to-bumper snarl to apprehend the unsuspecting driver. In a few minutes the bike squad had accomplished what would have been impossible for a patrol car.

``In a patrol car, when you get a call, whatever it is has already happened by the time you get there,'' says officer Paul Grady, a fit and enthusiastic member of the bicycle squad.

Not so on bikes. Since the program began last summer, Seattle's downtown precinct has seen some impressive results of the first urban police bicycle squad in the United States. The six officers on wheels are part of a 10-member foot-beat patrol called the Adam Squad.

In their first month, the bike unit (originally only two men) enthusiastically made 500 misdemeanor arrests - five times the average number for foot patrols. The figures have dropped somewhat since then, but they still average about 250 arrests per month.

One of their greatest advantages is speed, something this writer experienced firsthand.

``Where should we wait for you?'' the patrolman asked Mr. Grady. The officer was kindly chauffeuring me by car to Pike Place Market, to rendezvous with Grady and the other cycling cops.

``Aw, we'll beat you there,'' Grady said.

Sure enough, five minutes later we arrived at the famous open-air market 10 blocks away, and there was Grady, calmly waiting atop his aluminum steed - an 18-speed mountain bike.

Two enthusiasts start the squad

The formation of the bike squad was due largely to the impetus and enthusiasm of officer Grady and Mike Miller, two friends who had joined the Seattle police four years ago, after working for the Portland, Ore., city police for a number of years. They were convinced that an all-bike squad would be the perfect way to combat some types of crime in downtown Seattle. In fact, they were persuasive enough that their superiors decided to let them give it a go.

Their first bikes, borrowed from friends, lasted about six weeks, finally failing from rough wear and tear. Then Grady and officer Miller persuaded the Raleigh Cycle Company in Kent, Wash., to donate two top-of-the-line, all-terrain (or mountain) bikes to the squad. Since then, four more bikes have been added. In November, Miller was promoted to the traffic division, where he rides an even bigger ``bike'' - a motorcycle. Besides Grady, the cycling team currently includes officers Michele Calley, John Quaale, Pete Rossen, and Doug Wilburn; an open sixth position is expected to be filled soon.

The bike squad officers are ``pro active,'' meaning they take no calls; instead they are constantly on the lookout for problems. Many of their arrests have been surprised drug traffickers, who are easily spotted and apprehended by the quiet, quick two-wheelers, sometimes unaware that the dope is taken right out of their hands by the officers.

``It's so different on a bike; you are so close to what's happening, you can hear, see, and smell the crime taking place,'' says Grady.

Like many cities, downtown Seattle is a checkerboard of one-way streets, annoying for drivers and practically debilitating for police in patrol cars.

To make matters worse, the heart of downtown has been torn up during the construction of an underground bus tunnel. Patrol cars incur detours of five or six extra blocks and a loss of precious time. The project has wreaked considerable havoc on downtown traffic as well.