The History of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Motorcycle Unit
Solving crimes had always been the top priority of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. But as the population of rural Spokane County grew, so did traffic problems. County schools enlarged, and school zones became hazardous for children because more and more vehicles traveled the roads. Complaints to law enforcement about speeders and negligent drivers by parents and school administrators blossomed. Deputy Ron Laws knew the problem — he had spent an enormous amount of time working with schools in the county. He had received the Golden Acorn Award which is presented by a local PTA unit or council to a volunteer in recognition of his or her dedication and service to children and youth.
Deputy Laws took the complaints to Sheriff Bill Reilly and asked for the opportunity to start a traffic unit, but Reilly was a bit reluctant to give permission. He realized the time had come for traffic enforcement, so the Traffic Unit was born. The unit started with one marked patrol car, one Speedalyzer radar gun and Deputy Ron Laws. Laws eventually convinced the sheriff that the old Harley-Davidson should be added, and then a second deputy, Larry V. Erickson, was assigned to the traffic unit. Deputy Erickson ran the radar car and Deputy Laws ran chase on the motorcycle. It didn’t take long before several deputies became qualified on the Speedalyzer and could use it when the Traffic Unit was not working with it.
The first automobile of the sheriff’s office was a 1915 Overland. In the 1920s the sheriff’s office had no traffic unit and essentially no traffic enforcement; however, it did have a motorcycle in its fleet.
In the 1950s when a deputy was commissioned and went out on patrol he was issued a basic traffic citation book but it only took a couple of days on the road to get the message that the Sheriff frowned on
making a habit of working traffic and writing traffic tickets. A few of the young deputies made occasional traffic stops and wrote citations on a quiet shift.
One of the first motorcycle squads in the 1970s was Bob Bean, Chuck Anderson and Dick Lovejoy. As the unincorporated areas continued to grow and populate, traffic flow increased in those populated neighborhoods, school zones and parks grew, and vehicle traffic flowed through those areas. As traffic increased citizen complaints about traffic violations also increased. The Washington State Patrol patrolled some of those areas and enforced traffic laws, but WSP was mandated to do traffic enforcement on state routes, not on county roads. Periodically the headquarters people would remind district commanders of that mandate, particularly around budget time in the legislature.
In the later 1970’s the office switched from Harley-Davidson to Kawasaki 1000 police motorcycles. Motor riders came and went, but Deputy Bob Bean stayed with the motorcycles until a number of injury accidents forced him into retirement. Deputy Rod Ekholm stayed with a traffic car and a mobile mounted radar unit until his retirement. Technology advanced and the office acquired new radios for the Kawasakis, new portable radar guns and new vehicle-mounted radar units.
The sheriff’s office continued on with a much-reduced Traffic Unit until Sheriff Mark Sterk was elected to the office. One of his first projects was to greatly expand the Traffic Unit with new deputies, new Harley “Hogs,” new unmarked cars, new uniforms and a whole new spirit. In the 21st century the sheriff’s Traffic Unit entered a whole new era of prominence and importance. Now it is common to see sheriff’s motorcycles and traffic cars patrolling county roads and enforcing the county traffic code. and developed a new traffic unit and decreased accidents by 30%. Sterk went to a leased fleet of vehicles and motorcycles, which reduced the cost and increased the number of units available.
Information and Photos provided by the Spokane County, WA Sheriff’s Office