Seattle Pioneered Bicycle Riot Control Tactics But Running Over Protestor’s Head Not In Manual

Sheree Barbour holds her fist in the air as people protest the grand jury decision in the Breonna … [+] Taylor case on September 23, 2020 in Denver, United States. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images) Getty Images “The Seattle Police Department is aware of a video circulating on the internet […]

“The Seattle Police Department is aware of a video circulating on the internet that apparently shows an SPD bike officer’s bike rolling over the head of an individual laying in the street,” said a September 24 press release from Seattle police. [UPDATE: According to a follow-up press statement, issued on September 24, the “officer has been placed on administrative leave,” said Seattle police.]

The incident was captured at protests that started last night after a grand jury in Louisville, Kentucky, declined to indict officers for killing unarmed sleeping Black woman 26-year-old Breonna Taylor on March 13. Ex-officer Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing into Taylor’s neighbors’ apartments.

The grand jury’s decision sparked protests in Louisville and several other U.S. cities, including Portland, Chicago and Seattle.

Seattle police arrested 13 people during the overnight protests, police said.

“In total, officers arrested 13 individuals for charges ranging from property destruction, resisting arrest and failure to disperse as well as assault on an officer,” the police release said.

“Multiple officers were injured to include one who was struck in the head with a baseball bat cracking his helmet.”

One of the Seattle Police Department’s responses to the overnight protests was the deployment of its armored bike squad, members of which have been previously captured on video allegedly carrying out acts of violence on protestors.

Last year, viral videos appeared to show officers using patrol bikes to battle counter-protesters at a pro-Trump march. The incidents were filmed in Seattle on December 7 at the Mega MAGA march. In one video, an officer tripped over the wheel of a patrol bike and appeared to charge toward the nearest counter-protester in a fit of pique. In a second video, an officer seemed to deliberately ride his bike into the back of a protester on the sidewalk.

In many recent videos shared on social media, bike cops are shown using interlocked bicycles to create mobile barriers, yelling as they inch forward: “Move BACK! Move BACK!”

MORE FROM FORBESU.S. Police Batter Black Lives Matter Protesters With Bicycles

In June, police departments in several cities came under fire for using patrol bikes to control crowds during demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, on May 31.

Long history

The use of patrol bikes in crowd control by police officers has a long history—New York City’s bike cop squad in 1895 was run by then Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, a bike boom cyclist who wrote in his autobiography that “any feat of daring which could be accomplished on [bicycles, the squad] were certain to accomplish”—but the modern version was developed in Seattle in the 1990s.

Through a service called Tiger Mountain Tactical, Seattle Police Department bike squad officers have trained police forces around the U.S.

Tiger Mountain Tactical—or TMT—describes itself as “team of current law enforcement officers who have the most comprehensive knowledge and experience in police bicycle team operations.”

TMT’s lead instructor is Jim Dyment, a 28-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department. (Lieutenant Dyment did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this article.)

According to TMT’s website, Dyment “developed the first policy and training for bicycle crowd management stemming from experiences during the 1999 World Trade Organization Conference in Seattle.”

50,000 people showed up to protest this meeting. Many of the protesters were well-organized, using cellphones to coordinate activities, foxing many of the old-school riot tactics of the city’s mid-size police department. However, the city’s bike cops—not yet sporting armor, except for polystyrene bike helmets—were able to hold their own, proving to be more mobile and flexible than officers in cars.

Writing for Law and Order magazine in April 2016, Dyment said: “The police cyclist provides a constant presence within a crowd, which is a clear deterrent for criminal behavior.”

One tactic Dyment teaches at TMT is the “Mobile Fence Line.”

“This,” he wrote, “is a squad tactic that uses the coordinated movement (picking up the bicycle and moving it forward one or two steps) of the bicycle line to move forward. This is done in a manner that is disciplined, uniform and deliberate.”

As described in a 2002 article written by the late Mike Goetz, a Seattle bike squad officer, another common police tactic is the “crossbow.”

For this tactic, the police squad “forms a double-column behind the line, far enough behind so they can get a little speed up,” wrote Goetz.

“On command, the line makes a gap in the center, and the bikes ride through this gap.”

“Once they are in position,” continued Goetz, “the cover officers dismount and use their bikes as barriers. If the crowd becomes a threat, an application of [pepper] spray may be used. The lead riders make the arrest or tend to the injured person, and the squad retreats back through the line to safety. This maneuver must be conducted with enough speed and force to make a hole in the crowd, and completed quickly enough that the crowd does not have time to react.”

Today’s bike officers may be more armored—and more heavily armed—but, as Goetz wrote in 2002, bike cops are effective because they are fast and agile: “The speed and mobility of the squad allow it to quickly outflank a crowd if it moves in an undesirable direction. A squad or two of bicycles positioned several blocks away from the action can be moved in a fraction of the time required to move a foot squad or even a vehicle squad, as bikes are not hampered by stairs, traffic, or a lack of roads.”

Similarly, Dyment wrote in 2016 that bike squads have the “ability to keep up with coordinated, fast-moving, and dynamic crowds.”

Keep up? Yes. Rolling over the heads of prone protesters? No.

Headline changed September 24 from “riding over” a protestor’s head to “running over.” This more accurately describes the incident described in the article. A further update was added when Seattle police put the bike officer on administrative leave.

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