By Judy Furlong / University of Washington News Lab
It may not have a lip-sync video gone viral like the Seattle police, but since February, the Bothell Police Department has been sporting ultra-cool e-bikes.
Sgt. John Rogers, in charge of special operations at BPD, started checking into e-bikes last year when it came time to assess the department’s aging bicycle fleet. He had a chance to try one out at a University of Washington football game when Rad Power Bikes, a consumer-direct manufacturer located in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, provided e-bikes for officers patrolling the game to try.
After his ride around the Husky game, Rogers was hooked. He put together a proposal in December 2017, and in February, BPD purchased two RadRover Electric Fat Bikes to add to their existing bike fleet.
Rad Power Bikes has also supplied e-bike fleets to police departments in Normandy Park, Washington and Baltimore County, Maryland, said Brian Rinckenberger, commercial sales director. He added that they are currently in an evaluation period with the Vancouver Police Department in British Columbia, Canada.
E-bikes have enhanced the effectiveness of mounted patrol by allowing officers to travel farther, respond faster and not be fatigued when arriving on the scene, Rinckenberger said.
The bikes have a pedal-assist mode, a smart feature in which the electric motor kicks in when the rider starts pedaling, and a twist throttle that works like a scooter, only the electric motor is silent. The rider can also pedal with no assist.
E-bikes also allow departments to connect and build trust with the communities they serve, Rinckenberger said.
“Police officers are more visible and approachable on a bicycle versus a vehicle,” he said.
BPD school resource officer Garrett Ware, who patrols Bothell High School, said the e-bikes garner a lot of attention.
“One thing I noticed right away is the feedback from all the students,” he said. “They absolutely love the e-bike and think it is so cool. It is definitely a conversation piece, and it allows me to chat with students that I might not have met before.”
Rogers said the e-bikes have been particularly well-suited for the department’s patrol needs in Bothell. With an area covering two counties that can take 30-40 minutes to traverse in traffic, the power and speed of the e-bike are crucial, Rogers said.
BPD also recently took on patrol duty for the 79-acre Wayne Golf Course, which the city acquired at the end of 2017 and has turned into a park. The e-bikes are well-suited for patrolling the park, given its vastness and rugged terrain, Rogers said.
BPD used the Wayne Golf Course park as a test ground to put the e-bikes through their paces during a trial period before buying them.
“I had the officers take them out on mushy ground and take them up and down stairs,” Rogers said. “With that big tire and the suspension, we had no problem traversing those staircases.”
He added, “And so really, while it might look cool, the reality is it allows us to travel more places in a quicker manner, so if you’re the person in need, we don’t have to go all the way around; we can cut down stairs, we can take trails, we can go through swampy ground if we need to.”
E-bikes have been key for search and rescue, Rogers said. So far, BPD has been able to quickly locate a child lost at a Bothell fun run, as well as an elderly gentleman with dementia who had headed off onto the Burke Gilman Trail. The elderly gentleman was found within 10 minutes of the call, Rogers said.
Another tactical advantage of the e-bikes is the ability to sneak up on criminals.
“I would definitely say if you were somebody who was going to be breaking into cars or doing some other bad things, I would watch out for the e-bikes because you’re not going to know they’re there until they’re there,” Rogers said.
The bikes BPD purchased cost about $1,700 each, not including optional features, such as fenders and rear-view mirrors. Batteries would typically need to be replaced roughly every three years, depending on usage. Replacement battery packs at Rad Power Bikes currently cost about $400 for the 2017 model and $550 for the 2018 model.
The battery packs are removable and can be charged in a regular outlet. The battery takes four to six hours to charge, and less if the battery isn’t fully discharged, according to the company’s website.
BPD purchased the e-bikes with drug seizure money. The department had to demonstrate at a forfeiture hearing that the bikes could be used in counter-narcotics activities, in accordance with Washington state seizure and forfeiture law.
Rogers hopes to double BPD’s fleet within the next five years. Current staffing doesn’t allow for a full-time bike patrol, so they have a check-out system, Rogers said.
As for the future of e-bikes in law enforcement, Rogers is unequivocal: “They are the future.”
Judy Furlong is a student with the University of Washington News Lab.