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Seattle Police Mount Their Bikes And Prepare For A May Day Ride

Ted S. Warren
Associated Press
Bikes were a big tool in the Seattle Police Department's response to downtown May Day protests last year.

What’s the best tool when you have boisterous crowds mixing with police officers in a dense urban area? For the Seattle Police Department, it might be bikes. SPD officers took a refresher course last week on managing demonstrations on bicycles. Captain Chris Fowler, Commander of the West Precinct, said when the department trades tactical tips with other agencies, that’s what they always want to know more about.

"Bikes are really a core tool," said Fowler. "They can get around quickly. They can support many different types of marches. They're a great asset on the immigration march and they transition well to other types of activities, so they're a core component of how we plan."

That's especially true on days like May Day, when swerving around on a special mountain bike is the easiest way to navigate – and sometimes control -- crowds. Last year, police officers used bikes as a crowd control tool – as street barricades, or to direct people to disperse.

The bike unit started in 1987, when two enthusiastic officers figured it might be better than patrolling on foot, and convinced a mountain bike company to donate four to them. Now, there are about 100 officers trained to patrol on bike. The department won’t disclose how many will be on duty Thursday.

Fowler says the SPD does not plan on dispersing crowds into the Capitol Hill neighborhood this year, and that their response will depend on how big the crowd is and where it goes naturally.