The History of the Spokane Police Department Motorcycle Unit
In 2010, the Spokane Police Department celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the use of motorcycles in patrol and traffic safety. On March 17, 1910, the Board of Police Commissioners submitted a recommendation for the chief of police that the Council appropriate the sum of $312.00 to purchase a motorcycle and equipment for the police department due to a great number of complaints being made regarding motorcycles, taxicabs and automobiles driving at reckless speed and it becoming imperative that a motorcycle be purchased and an officer detailed to the duty of enforcing a new ordinance regulating the speed of these vehicles.
On March 30, 1910 the Spokesman-Review ran an article “Officer who Keeps Check on Autos” – Patrolman W. G. “Reggie” Boldman the first Spokane policeman mounted on a wheel or motorcycle, who is making life miserable for the “speeders” who frequent Monroe Street hill approaching Boone Avenue. Officer Boldman is mounted on a twin cylinder [Indian] motorcycle equipped with a speedometer. He rides alongside of an auto and watching what his speedometer records, arrests the offenders in case they are breaking the speed laws.
By May 16, 1911, a photo of Julius Frese as the only motorcycle officer in Spokane appeared in the Spokesman-Review. By late June the city had purchased three more Indian motorcycles. Officer Ben Hunt and Officer Jordan started riding by 1912.
Motorcycle officer Bill Hudson told the press on December 13, 1920 that, “if speeders get away from me now they will be welcome to their freedom.” He had just gotten his hands on one of the two new Harley Davidson motorcycles purchased by the department in exchange for two older models they had. “She is guaranteed to do 85 mph, as is one of the big 74 cubic inch displacement machines.” The officer said, “I didn’t open it up, but I don’t believe 85 mph is any exaggeration. If they get away now, I’ll think they’re real drivers.”
Officer Frederick Alexander Germain was killed in a motorcycle accident while pursuing a speeding vehicle on July 21, 1922. During the pursuit a large truck swerved to avoid colliding with him. The truck went into a ditch but spun around, striking Officer Germain, killing him instantly. The driver that he was chasing was a repeat offender. Officer Germain was the first motorcycle officer on our department killed in the line of duty.
Three motorcycle officers were added on May 24, 1928. Victor Hudson and Harry Davenport were to work from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m; Adolf Windmaiser worked 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m; Fred Freseand Walter Case from 3 pm to 11 pm; and P.D. Anderson from 4:00 p.m. to 12 a.m. Hourly calls were made by the officers to the station so that every twenty minutes, headquarters would be in touch with one of the three motorcycle officers on duty.
Spokane had four men on traffic duty in 1929 when the government statistics showed they should have thirty-one. The commissioner of public safety asked for an additional ten men, and if he got them in January, a special traffic squad would be formed. Meanwhile automatic traffic signals were installed on Riverside at Washington, Howard and Post. It seemed strange to the people back then not to see the blue-coated traffic officer in the center of the street directing traffic and admonishing in a loud voice the pedestrians and drivers who went against his signals.
Back in 1930 one of the heaviest traffic flows appeared to be at the intersection of Monroe and Broadway with 15,568 autos passing the intersection in twelve hours. The northbound traffic on Monroe was the heaviest with only 3,045 going east and west on Broadway. “Times haven’t changed too much, have they?”
For the first time, the police department motorcycles got into the radio act on May 30, 1935, when they were equipped with radios.
In September 1935, Fred Frese was equipped with a “left-handed motorcycle” so that he could effectively mark the tires of parked autos. He was the first motorized tire marker the city had on the department.
The PD motorcycle cop was appraised in a clipping dated November 10, 1941, that read, “SPD has thirteen motorcycle officers who make $5 a month more than first-class patrolmen. He has only a one-way radio on his bike and usually works alone.
The second motorcycle officer killed in the line of duty was Officer George Patrick Lancaster who was struck by a car and suffered a basal skull fracture and many other injuries. He had several blood transfusions, but died on November 18, 1943.
In June 1945 Commissioner Payne took five motorcycle men from the department. He left only two motorcycles in the entire city. Sgt. Dan Mangan became the first sergeant to ride motorcycle in the city. He had a general shake-up throughout the SPD and the FBI was helping to revamp the department.
The first part of February 1946 saw the addition of four three-wheeled motorcycles to the traffic division. They were to be used for checking parking violations. The riders were Alton H. Snyder, Gale Pitner, Chris Luders, and George Luther. In September 1947, Sandifur Motors loaned the department one Jeep to try out. If it worked out, it would mean the end of motorcycles for the department, with the exception of the three-wheelers. Officers Irv Neubauer and Ray Kenworthy were tasked to be the testing officials.
Spokane’s largest traffic squad to date was in 1946. They were mandated to crack down on dilatory drivers in no uncertain terms in an effort to reduce deaths, injuries and property damage, according to Captain Lloyd D. Ferguson. The squad was comprised of sixteen and a total of 20 trained officers.
One of the worst, if not the worst, accident involving a police vehicle was written up in the paper on March 11, 1948. Five were injured when the police Cadillac patrol wagon collided with a truck at Howard and Riverside. The patrol wagon struck the truck, which in turn struck four pedestrians. One of the injured, a woman, subsequently died of her injuries.
The patrol wagon was carrying injured Motorcycle Officer Dave Watson to the Sacred Heart Hospital emergency room when the accident occurred. Watson had been injured when his motorcycle collided with a panel truck. The wagon, with red lights and siren on, was headed east on Riverside when the accident happened. Driver of the patrol wagon, Clinton Thompson, was not injured but his partner Hugo Koenig was thrown from the vehicle and suffered arm and leg injuries. Approximately fifty witnesses called the station regarding the accident and stated that the speed Thompson had told the investigators, 24-35 mph, was right. An inquest was called but no one was held liable.
A year later, in March 1949, Motorcycle Officer Peder Bakken was involved in an accident in the central downtown area. Bakken was declared dead at the scene. Later, on the way to the morgue ,in the back of the ambulance, the officer began to move, frightening the ambulance crew. The directions were changed, and the ambulance delivered Bakken to the hospital instead. He returned to the motorcycle unit after several months of rehabilitation.
The fate of the motorcycle unit was often based on the budget. More often than not it was based on the person beliefs of the person ocupying the chief’s office.
The Royal Order of the Silver, Black and White Cycles”
The Black and White Cycles were first organized as “The Royal Order of the Silver, Black and White Cycles. Originally, all the motorcycles were silver. When Homer Hall had an accident, he received permission to have his motorcycle painted black and white. Eventually all the motors were black and white. The club was organized in April of 1951, as The Royal Order of Silver, Black and White Cycles with Bob Colliton as President.
The following swing-shift traffic officers were the Charter Members: Captain Lloyd Freeman, Sgt. Olan Sherar, Tom O’Brien, Jay Wilcox, Mel Griffiths, Richard Tilton, Homer Hall, Bob Colliton, Bill Glanville, Royce Thornburg, Tom Pugh (who later changed his last name to Curtis), and Glen Atkisson who was the Chaplain, although he didn’t ride motor. The organization described themselves as semi-social and semi-business organization. The meetings were held at Sherar’s home, or whoever had an ‘understanding wife’. When they got enough money in the treasury, a party was thrown at the Garland Dental Clinic basement. This wasn’t very often as the dues were only $.50 a month. At that time, motor officers were making $300.00 a month. The club disintegrated due to changes in assignments after a couple of years, but the brotherhood of the motorcycle officers exits even today. (Photos courtesy SPD Archives)
The department issued its motorcycle riders a fleece-lined “helmet” on Christmas Day of 1951. They were called helmets, but were made out of cloth with a fleece lining. October of 1989 brought many changes to the newly reformed SPD Traffic Unit going through their basic motorcycle operator training, and in 1990, a new nine member Traffic Unit was approved by the City Council, and the motorcycle unit was reestablished and equipped with Kawasaki 1000s through a bond issue. The unit immediately made an impact on the city’s vehicle accident rate and the number of hit and run incidents, lowering both in just a matter of months. This was the year the unit also developed a billboard campaign aimed at drivers who may drink, particularly during the year-end holiday period.
The unit also worked with driver education classes in the city’s schools and with the local C.A.R.T.A. chapter. The Unit became the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission’s training cadre for basic motorcycle operations for Eastern Washington. In 1992, members of the traffic unit developed a teen alcohol prevention program, which they named, “Every 15 Minutes.” This highly successful program was implemented in several local area high schools; bring the officers in to speak to students about drinking and driving.
In I994 the Traffic Unit received eight new Kawasaki motorcycles, replacing the previous 1989 models. March of 2001 saw the purchase of four new Kawasaki motorcycles, using school zone enforcement grant funding.
After members of the traffic unit conducted a study to determine which motorcycle the unit will adopt, the BMW won out. The first set of nine (9) BMW motorcycles were received by the department in April of 2002, from Beaudry Motor Sports. Another series were purchased in 2004 and then two more in late 2005.
The “Annual” Motorcycle Reunion’s began again in 1990 when Mel Griffiths (known as Mr. Motorcycle) and Paul Warrington were talking about starting a motorcycle police club. In the late 40’s when Griffiths was a young motor officer they had the Black and White Cycles Club. The name came from the motorcycles, which were black and white Harleys. All former and active motorcycle officers from the City, County and State became part of the group. The first reunion was held at the Police Guild on May 5, 1990. Attending were forty-seven SPD, four SCSO, five State Troopers, and thirty wives. The Annual Reunion is scheduled for the first Friday in June has been held since that time. The 20th Reunion celebrated the 100th anniversary of motorcycles on the Spokane Police Department. Many of the members of the group take place in charity runs and other motorcycle activities.
Information and Photos provided by the Spokane, WA Police Department