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PPB Chief Reese joins a shift with downtown bike patrol

Posted by on June 18th, 2014 at 11:26 am

PPB Police Chief Mike Reese on bike patrol-9
Portland Police Bureau Chief Mike Reese on SW 2nd Ave and Ankeny this morning.
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland Police Bureau Chief Mike Reese is on bike patrol today.

I follow @chiefreese on Twitter and this morning he mentioned he was out with bike officers today. Then, after a few readers texted me his whereabouts (thanks Ryan and Dee!), I rolled out to track him down. I ended up meeting him and Officer Todd Engstrom near the corner of SW 2nd and Burnside.

The duo was checking on an illegally parked car as I rolled up. Not wanting to interrupt them (and knowing my visit was completely unscheduled), I waited for a chance to chat.

PPB Police Chief Mike Reese on bike patrol-5

PPB Police Chief Mike Reese on bike patrol-6
Chief Reese and Officer Todd Engstrom chat with a downtown resident.
PPB Police Chief Mike Reese on bike patrol-1
PPB Police Chief Mike Reese on bike patrol-3
PPB Police Chief Mike Reese on bike patrol-8
A closer look at the bike: a disc-brake equipped Fuji mtb with slick tires.

Given that he competes in triathlons, I knew Chief Reese was no stranger to cycling; but I never knew he was certified for bike patrol. He told me this morning he’s maintained his official certification since 1990. The Chief does one shift a month and this month he chose to ride with Ofc. Engstrom on a “PPI” shift (Portland Patrol Inc., a private security company that partners with the PPB downtown).

While the PPB has nearly 1,000 officers only eight are on regular bike patrol (dozens more have access to bicycles for use during large marches and protests, as we saw during the Occupy Portland events of 2011). There are currently six officers on downtown bike patrol and two assigned to SE Hawthorne Blvd.

Chief Reese is an advocate of bike patrol. “For downtown,” he shared with me this morning, “It’s one of the best ways to address neighborhood livability issues. Both [foot patrol and bike patrol] are a lot more effective way to engage with people and to have a conversation — just like we’re having right now.”

Unfortunately, Reese said that due to budget and operational issues, he doesn’t think we’ll be seeing more cops on bikes any time soon. “We’re so lean as an agency, it’s difficult to envision more officers on bikes,” he said.

According to Reese, the primary reason the bureau doesn’t use more bike officers is their inability to respond to 911 calls. When an emergency call comes in, every officer on a bike means there’s one less officer available to respond. “We’ve got to carve resources from our patrol branch to do this work, and that’s hard to do.”

Officer Todd Engstrom is the self-described “point-man” of the PPB’s bike patrol unit. He’s the main bike instructor for other officers and the PPB recently paid for him to complete the comprehensive, two-week mechanic certification course at United Bicycle Institute (“I got to build a wheel,” he shared this morning, “that was pretty cool!”).

PPB Police Chief Mike Reese on bike patrol-4
Officer Todd Engstrom.

Engstrom said most of his job is dealing with low-level livability issues. “We’re just trying to keep downtown clean,” he said. He also has regular run-ins with bike thieves. He knows several who are prolific and each time he sees them he asks about their bikes and runs them through his police radio to see if they’re stolen. “There’s one guy who I see a lot,” he said, “He probably steals 2-3 bikes a day. He can cut them with bolt cutters in a few seconds and then he sells them for $20-30 bucks… and that’s his heroin fix for the day.”

Engstrom is also a big believer in bike patrol, but sees two disadvantages over patrol cars. First, he doesn’t have access to a computer to easily and quickly run the names of suspects. And second, he can’t transport arrestees. When he does make an arrest he has to interrupt another officer with a patrol car to take the person to the justice center for processing (I ran into Portland Pedicabs owner Ryan Hashagen this morning who said he’s had discussion with the PPB about the potential of using a pedicab for this in the future).

“I put my body [person he has arrested] into the patrol car and then ride over to the justice center… And I usually beat them there,” he said with a smile.


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Comments
  • Allan June 18, 2014 at 11:57 am

    If they want to see people eye to eye, why do they wear helmets? It is visually very different than seeing a head without a helmet

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    • AndyC of Linnton June 18, 2014 at 12:25 pm

      I say bring back the classic police cap!

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    • groovin101 June 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      I see 2 advantages:

      1) A helmet should not be viewed as “bikey”, and the more the non-biking public sees other regular folks in basic bike gear, the easier it will be to relate.

      2) Police officers are a symbol of authority and as such serve as an example. If I was out and about with my little girls and they saw an officer without a helmet, I would have a tough time explaining why they don’t have to follow the same safety rules.

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      • resopmok June 18, 2014 at 6:09 pm

        i thought the explanation is easy, cops do whatever they want.

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  • Spiffy June 18, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    You can still respond to 911 calls on a bicycle. You just wouldn’t respond to ones that are very far away.

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  • Anne Hawley June 18, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Jonathan, thanks for the great reporting. I agree that most of the reasons for not having more cops on bikes sound like the rationalizations of an auto-centric perspective. But the police chief rides a bike and the bureau sent their main guy to bike school, and that gives me hope that the PPB perspective can change.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 18, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      It’s hard to blame them for not being more bike-centric when downtown offers such a poor environment for bicycling. I guarantee if we had more, higher-quality, connected and prioritized bikeways criss-crossing downtown we would be more likely to see more officers on the bike patrol.

      In fact, maybe we should use “bike patrol emergency response routes” as a main selling point/argument in favor of more protected bikeways.

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      • Robert Burchett June 19, 2014 at 10:25 am

        Downtown has lots of cycling routes–they are called streets! Since almost all intersections are controlled with timed lights there is a de facto speed limit of 12.5 miles per hour. Curiously, downtown is in fact the most bike-friendly square mile of the city. People routinely drive twice as fast on my neighborhood street as they do in downtown Portland. My opinion: putting various random bike facilities downtown is just more fiddling, it was better before. Of course, there are the tracks–

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        • Reza June 19, 2014 at 12:02 pm

          First of all, not all downtown streets are timed for 12.5 mph. Some streets get longer green times to flush out traffic during peak hours, which messes up timing. Signal timing on streets crossing the transit mall and cross-mall is notoriously out of whack as well, due to signal preemption of MAX trains.

          Frankly, taking the lane in downtown is not for the faint of heart, especially if your route is even slightly uphill (heading west away from the river south of Burnside or heading south to PSU). And what bike facilities we have now are usually the door-zone narrow variety that constantly invite right hooks. And there is also no good northbound bike route during PM rush hour when 4th is constantly backed up.

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          • Robert Burchett June 21, 2014 at 11:01 am

            The most useful bike lane downtown (in my opinion) would be the SW Broadway bike lane from SW Taylor up to I-405. The hill gets steeper as you go and the light timing actually seems to be faster at the upper end. Certainly the trains mess things up but bike lanes aren’t the answer for that (MAX train intersection light timing crazy conservative but that’s another topic).

            At least three people, one an acquaintance of mine, have been killed in motor vehicle collisions in downtown Portland that would not happened if they had been riding in a full lane instead of in the apparent security of a bike lane.

            I’m opposed to any bike lane-ish thing that doesn’t have very clear safety and speed advantages over riding in the lane, but gives an opportunity for discretionary enforcement of a poorly written and widely misunderstood law about compulsory use of bike lanes.

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    • 9watts June 18, 2014 at 9:22 pm

      “most of the reasons for not having more cops on bikes sound like the rationalizations of an auto-centric perspective”

      Yep. Especially as
      + I’ve heard from the Portland Police just last week that their recent project to put more cops on foot and bike patrols (downtown and on Hawthorne) has corresponded to less need for the cops-in-cars to do their thing; and
      + a cop on a bike ****has*** to be less expensive than a cop in a car with a too-big engine and a laptop and all those lights.

      It would be interesting to have a more in depth conversation with Mike Reese or someone from the PPB about this. I ask the officers who come to our neighborhood meetings about this every chance I get. The answers I’ve gotten in those settings have not dissuaded me from thinking there’s more there than Reese’s comments suggest.

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    • matt picio June 21, 2014 at 8:12 am

      PPB *is* changing – compare their interactions with the bike community now with 5 years ago, before Mike Reese’s tenure as police chief. Jonathan’s done pieces on Chief Reese before. Reese was in SERT (SWAT in older parlance), he was very active in the police union, has a reputation for a clear head and a consensus builder, and was the commander of Central Precinct before becoming chief.

      A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with him when I was a WNBR co-organizer. Carl Larson and I met with the police several times ( at that time Commander Reese, Captain Erik Hendricks, Lt. Parman, Sgt Smith and others) to iron out the details of the collaboration which is still ongoing and manages navigating 5k-10k cyclists through the city safely. Mike Reese was attentive, understanding of our concerns, receptive to suggestions, professional, and really changed a number of advocates views of what interacting with the PPB could be like.

      Sure, there are still issues – most of which deal with PPB’s treatment of minorities and those with mental health conditions. But those seem to be improving – and when’s the last time you heard of a cyclist getting tasered? Not long ago, the term “jack-booted thugs” was bandied about frequently in Bikeportland comments about certain officers – how often have *those* stories been posted in the last 2 years?

      “Cops” are people. They are young, old, good, and unfortunately sometimes bad. Overall, they are dedicated, hard-working, professional, and doing the best they can at a difficult job where a single mistake might kill them, or lose them their job and their family’s financial support. Their every action is scrutinized – rightfully so, but that’s a challenging environment to work in.

      All that isn’t aimed at you, Anne – just a general comment because these stories tend to dredge up a lot of negative opinions of our police and it’s rare for commenters to talk about the positive interactions.

      I think the Portland Police Bureau has come a long way – and Mike Reese is a huge part of the change in culture there. Change never happens as fast as many of us would like it to, but it’s happening nonetheless.

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  • reader June 18, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    “There’s one guy who I see a lot,” he said, “He probably steals 2-3 bikes a day.”

    Why isn’t he in jail??

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      reader,

      I had a feeling someone would ask this ;-). The thing is, arresting someone (and having it stick) for bike theft is harder than it seems. If the officer doesn’t see it happen with their own eyes, it can be difficult to prove in court. And of course, the person will always simply deny the charge. I don’t know the details of this one guy in particular, but it could be the case that he has been arrested for bike theft and has simply gone through the turnstiles of justice and is back out on the street. Another issue is that, even if an officer is positive a bike doesn’t belong to the person riding it, they must be able to find the bike via their own registration database or on one that’s publicly available (like our stolen bike listings and the Stolen Bike Registry). Unfortunately many people don’t report their bikes stolen and if they do they don’t have the serial number registered in the report thus making it nearly impossible for an officer to take action.

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      • bhance June 18, 2014 at 1:05 pm

        We need to ask Ofc. Engstrom to start using the newly merged SBR/BikeIndex stolen bike search at stolen.bikeindex.org, too — way better mobile interface and matching now.

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      • Todd Hudson June 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm

        Your answer spurs me to ask this: What’s the sniff test for being charged with possession of stolen property? Can a person beat the rap if they claim ignorance? I’m guessing a lot of thieves just get their stolen bike seized by police and see no charges.

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      • John Lascurettes June 23, 2014 at 3:38 pm

        Portland needs some “bait bikes” like other police departments in SF and other cities have been having success with.

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  • Reza June 18, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Why aren’t these guys ticketing transit mall scofflaws?

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  • Joe June 18, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    I agree we need them is spots that need help lets say, one more bike on MAX.. ahhhh no! lol wish these dude and dudets would wave at me feel little better about being on the same page, oh this just in Wilsonville now has couple bike cops and well lets say they might not understand stop law and bikey laws…. sad :( wish they would get focus on red light runners and auto related issues towards humans here.. :)

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  • Hart Noecker June 18, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    ‘“I put my body [person he has arrested] into the patrol car and then ride over to the justice center… And I usually beat them there,” he said with a smile.’

    Slip of the tongue?

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    • scott June 18, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      “Beat” as in arrive before the patrol car.

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    • CaptainKarma June 18, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Total Freudian slip. All cops should be dogged by video drones.

      Recommended Thumb up 5

    • Mike June 18, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      Probably meant “body” as in dead body because all cops lie and carry guns and kill people every chance they get, and probably meant “beat” as in beat the dead body because cops love beating people (dead or alive), right?

      He was probably “smiling” because he was thinking of shooting and beating his next cyclist victim.

      He probably only rides a bike to lure his victims into a sense of security and familiarity before he needlessly and unjustifiably attacks them. I bet he loathes bikes and cyclists, but he rides anyway because it is a great camouflage.

      He better watch it, we’re totally on to him.

      Yes, this is all totally tongue in cheek and (hopefully) dripping with sarcasm. In all seriousness, THANK YOU to Officer Engstrom and Chief Reese for all the work they do and risks they take. You are very much appreciated.

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      • Paul June 18, 2014 at 9:45 pm

        Made me laugh!

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  • scott June 18, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    I have never seen someone look so serious when riding up a roll-in to the sidewalk.

    Game Face level 10.

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  • John Liu June 18, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Perhaps PPB bike officers could pedal 600 watt e-bikes with speed governors disabled. If a 911 call comes in, they could hit the throttle and get there at 30 mph. The e-bike’s battery could power lights and siren, and the iPad. Hmm, if these were e-Bakfiets, they could even transport arrestees. I like it!

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    • Rob Chapman June 18, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      I like where you’re going there John!

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    • GlowBoy June 19, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      I agree, police patrol seems like one of the best potential uses for e-bikes.

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  • Nick Groesz June 18, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    I have no idea how practical it would be, but I really, really like the idea of transporting arrested suspects to booking with a pedicab.

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  • Pete June 18, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Great article, thanks for this! Really discouraged by some of the h8ful comments though :(.

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  • Paul June 18, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Reese is a great guy. I didn’t know he was a triathlete, but I’ve chatted about surfing with him. Glad to see him out there on a bike!

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  • Jess E. Hadden June 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Todd Engstrom — the dude who liked to attack children from behind during the Occupy Portland days? He’s a real piece of work — but he’s lying, he doesn’t wait to beat his suspects. He does it right there on the street.

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