The Federal Way Police Department has a new tool in its arsenal to help keep the city’s streets safer.
Last November, the department purchased two electric bicycles for officers in the Special Operations Unit.
Officer Ben Tseng, who is assigned to the unit, approached Police Chief Andy Hwang about getting the electric bikes for the department.
“The idea came from my own personal use of electric bikes,” Tseng said. “A few years back, I went through a couple of different models myself. It was always a positive experience for me because you can ride and not be tired. You can go fast. The technology is getting lighter and more inexpensive.”
The chief agreed to start a pilot program using the bikes, and the department purchased two bikes last fall from Florida-based Prodecotech.
In the first six months of the pilot program, results have been positive, Tseng said.
“They can go faster than a regular bike,” he said. “You have faster response because you have motorized assistance. You are not pedaling as hard so you are not getting as tired. In dense areas, like our downtown core, we can zip through the side streets between the buildings. We can get to certain calls probably quicker than a patrol car could, if you have to wait for traffic lights to change.”
Tseng said one day while filling out reports at the downtown substation, 31620 23rd Ave. S., police received a call about a fight at the Wendy’s about a quarter-mile away.
“We just deployed and rode our bikes,” he said. “We zipped across the street and dealt with the situation before any patrol cars got there.”
In the first few days of having the electric bikes, Tseng used his bike to arrest a wanted felon near Winco. The man had run from an officer a week prior and had gotten away, Tseng said.
“When I saw him, I kind of snuck up on him, called for backup, and a patrol car backed me up,” Tseng said. “As soon as he saw the patrol car, he ran off. He ran into the parking lot trying to blend in but not knowing I was right behind him. I snuck up on him and arrested him. He didn’t even know that a bike cop was nearby.”
The bikes can be powered by pedaling, using motorized mode, or by both pedaling and using power, Tseng said. The bicycles’ lithium batteries can go up to 20 miles without needing a charge.
In addition to patrolling the streets, officers have used the bikes at the city’s parks and trails.
There are four officers assigned to the department’s bike team, so the officers are sharing the two electric bicycles, Tseng said. The department’s bike team also uses non-motorized bicycles, as do some officers assigned to schools or the mall.
“A lot of citizens don’t know there are such things as electric bikes, but when they find out they are like ‘what a great idea,’” he said. “When we first deployed it and used them (we thought) ‘why did we wait so long? This makes sense.’”
Federal Way was the first department in South King County to use the electric bicycles, Tseng said. He hopes to get more bikes to expand the program.
“We may not get new bikes in the near future,” he said. “But we definitely want to outfit more officers with it.”