Traffic Division: History of the Motorcycle
1319 SE Martin Luther King Blvd.
"Sworn to Protect, Dedicated to Serve"
Written in 1983 by Officer Peter Bowman
1999 by Officer Michael Clary
Information is scarce about the actual formation of the Portland Police
Bureau's Motorcycle Detail. But it is believed that in the latter part of 1909,
the Police Bureau hired Mr. Merle Sims. Sims' family reported that Merle Sims
was hired by the Police Bureau because he owned his own Motorcycle. Sims'
motorcycle was one of the Police Bureau's first pieces of mechanized equipment.
The job that Merle Sims performed on his motorcycle apparently impressed the
City Fathers during 1910 because they purchased two more motorcycles that year.
The Annual Report for 1910 states, "Two Motorcycles were purchased and placed in
service. Two have proven to be very useful in making quick runs in emergency
cases and in timing and checking the speed of automobiles. They are used at
headquarters. Would strongly recommend two more for the Department."
The following years were good to the Motorcycle Detail. This small group of
motorcycles had made there presence felt in 1912, then Chief Slover made the
recommendation that the Mounted Squad be disbanded and the substitution of an
emergency squad of Motorcycle Officers be instituted. In the annual report,
Chief Slover wrote: "This innovation, I believe will add to the efficiency of
the Department. It may be necessary to retain one or two Mounted men, but it has
been demonstrated that those mounted on Police motorcycles can render better
service, not only in taking the place of the Horse Patrol, but in promptly
answering calls to remote parts of the City".
In the early days of the Portland Police Bureau, the motorcycle detail was
known as the "Speed Squad". During the period of 1912 to 1921 the Speed Squad
increased in size from 6 motorcycles to 16. Fifteen Motor Officers and one Motor
Lieutenant accounted for 11,266 arrests and revenue of $26,746.50 in fines. The
"Speed Squad" Lieutenant had a total of 281 arrests himself.
The Motorcycle Squad continued to prove their worth to the City Fathers and
the Motor Squad continued to grow. From 1921 to 1927 the Squad increased to 39
Motor officers and 29 Police Motorcycles. Over the years the Portland Police
Bureau's Motorcycle detail has gone from a limited specialized unit to a
multi-function specialized unit. Not much is written in the Annual Reports about
the motorcycle detail between the years 1927 and 1946, but the detail must have
proven its' worth to the City Fathers, because they steadily increased in size
to a total of 35 motorcycles in 1946. Of the 35 motorcycles, 4 were three
wheelers used in enforcing parking regulations. In 1946 the Bureau started to
modernize the detail and equipped two of their 35 motorcycles with radios. From
1946 to 1962 not much is written about the motorcycle detail, but various
sources put the detail at 40 motorcycles, of which 15 were 3 wheelers.
In 1962 the motorcycle squad was to become even more of a specialized unit.
In the fall of 1962, the Police Bureau formed the Tactical Operations Platoon,
or "Top Squad" as it was called by its' members. The Top Squad was formed to
handle the problems associated with Political or Labor unrest and any riotous
situations, as well as man-made or natural disasters. It was thought that the
best way of handling such problems was with a Task Force combining the qualities
of high mobility and immediate availability. The Motorcycle Detail met such
requirements, because each member had 24 hour possession of his motorcycle,
uniform and equipment at his residence. The Top Squad participated in extensive
crowd control and anti-riot duties in the late 60's and early 70's. During this
time budget cuts took their toll. The motorcycle detail was cut in size to 21
motorcycles and 3 Sergeants. 1979 was a devastating year for the Motorcycle
Detail when cuts reduced it's number to 12 Motor Officers and 2 Motor
Around the end of 1985, the Traffic Division was tasked with the mission of
dealing with Cruisers on 82nd Avenue. A number of day shift motorcycle officers
were sent to the evening shift specifically to work cruisers. Around 1986, the
City of Portland enacted a City Ordinance to target cruising on specific
streets. This ordinance was instrumental in virtually eliminating the heavy
cruising that had occurred on 82nd Ave. and 122nd Ave.
Between 1986 and early 1988, the motorcycle detail was strengthened to a
total of 22 Officers and 4 Sergeants, split over 2 shifts, with coverage from
0700 hrs to 0300 hrs. In October 1997, the Enhanced Vehicle Safety Enforcement
Program (EVSEP) was formed, adding 5 Officers and 1 Sergeant, now bringing the
motorcycle detail to a total of 27 Officers and 5 Sergeants. The EVSEP details'
hours are from 1000-1800, Monday through Friday, and is specifically tasked with
Commuter Enforcement and targeted Neighborhood