LAPD Police E-Bikes and Chief Charlie Beck
To say that former Los Angeles Police Department Chief of Police Charlie Beck has policing in his blood is an understatement. His father was at one time was the Deputy Chief, two of his kids are LAPD officers, his wife was a narcotics K9 handler, and his sister was a detective.
Charlie was born in 1953 in Long Beach, California. He joined the LAPD in March of 1977 after serving two years with the Los Angeles Police Reserve Corps. He rose through the ranks, promoted to Sergeant in 1984, then Lieutenant in 1993, Captain in 1999 and Commander in 2005. A year later, he was promoted to Deputy Chief. In 2009, he was appointed Chief. After spending his whole life dedicated to law enforcement, just recently Chief Beck decided to hang up his badge and retire.
As Chief, he oversaw the third largest police department in the United States, managing 10,000 officers and 3000 civilian employees. The City of Los Angeles encompasses an area of 473 square miles, with a population of 3.8 million people and an annual budget exceeding one billion dollars. That’s a lot of responsibility, and he has to leverage a police force that is, per capita, one of the smallest compared to other major metropolitan areas of the U.S. There are 33.2 officers per 10,000 people here, versus 60.2 officers per 10,000 in NYC, 74.4 in Washington, D.C., and 47 in Chicago.
He’s been innovative in every position and has been driving the force into the 21st century with reforms and modernization that has mitigated crime, reduced gang violence, contained terrorism and continued the reforms that brought the department into compliance with the consent decree.
“This program will be good for e-bikes in general. I think they’re going to be immensely popular in the United States, I really do. I’m amazed I don’t see more of them.”
As an avid motocross racer, Beck loves being on two wheels. He is a past Police and Fire Motocross National champion and has won numerous medals in state, national and international competitions.
His love of riding extends to bicycles as well, and LAPD now has 500 bicycles out on patrol. When he first heard about e-bikes, he contacted Karel Kramer, former editor of EBA and known to him via motocross, and asked to try them. He rode a Stromer city bike but wanted to try an electric mountain bike.
We went out together in the mountains of Southern California, and that ride helped solidify his idea that the LAPD needed e-bikes. We ended up consulting with the department several times, including observing their bicycle training curriculum (see page 36). Ultimately, they chose Bulls to put together an e-bike specific to the needs of bike officers.
For being the leader of a very militaristic organization like the LAPD, Beck is very personable and seems to impart that friendliness down the line.
EBA: Chief, how do you think bike patrols are an advantage in Los Angeles?
CB: The big problem with policing in Los Angeles is that we’re a giant, flat city. Nobody ever gets to meet the police officers that work their neighborhood, with exceptions to those places that have a lot of cops in the areas that have crime issues. To the vast majority of the people, we’re just a car driving by. Bikes are just the opposite of that. People have more chances to see you; there’s always some interaction. Bikes are a great community policing tool, and they’re a great way to get around, especially in places we’re responsible for, like Hollywood or downtown Los Angeles.
EBA: We talked to several officers about it, and they agree about how much faster bikes are than cars for getting around those areas.
CB: Oh, yeah, so much easier! And you don’t have to park; you’re right in the mix from the get-go. They have a lot of advantages. They’re going to be a great tool for us. For us, the weather’s always good, so we don’t have that issue. They’re going to be great, I know that.
EBA: I think e-bikes are an amazing part of your legacy at LAPD.
CB: I’m hoping it takes off. When you try to explain e-bikes to people, nobody understands exactly how they work. They think they’re something like a motorcycle, which, of course, they’re not. But with the class 3 bikes like our Bulls, our officers can reach speeds of 28 mph, which is really fast downtown!”
EBA: It seems like you’re setting a great precedent with this, something that will likely be copied nationwide, if not beyond.
CB: I know e-bikes are super popular for commuting in Europe. I have to assume that there are police departments over there that use them. I haven’t talked to any big city departments that use them, but I know they’ll start. It’s just a matter of time. Everybody uses bicycle patrols. This is the same thing, only better!
EBA: Something like 90 percent of the American population doesn’t yet know that they exist.
CB: How many garages have bikes that never get used? All of them, practically. And the reason is, like my house, I live on a hill. And believe me, coming up that hill finishes you off on a regular bike. You’re done! But on an e-bike, it’s just no big deal. You still get a workout, but it isn’t something you dread. I dread going up that hill on a regular bike!
“You can get across town way faster on an e-bike than you can in a car!”
EBA: You mentioned that you know of a number of professional bike riders who retired from their sport and are now in law enforcement.
CB: I tell people that all the time. They’re very similar. First of all, both of them are about controlling adrenaline. If you’re good at that, you can be good at racing and police work too. It’s about balancing risk, and there’s nothing without risk. But, you can’t take foolish risk. You’ve got to be able to balance risk, you have to be able to function in tough environments, and you’ve got to have some heart. All those things that make good BMXers and good motocrossers make good cops too. When you make a bad decision, it hurts either way!
EBA: What are your plans for retirement?
CB: I’m going to ride my e-bike. I’ll ride my motocross bike. I’m going to work on some non-profit stuff and some policing stuff. Nothing full-time. It’ll be fun, because I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s been a great profession for me.
Hopefully your readers will think of it as another way to do something they might like to do as a career. It’s a great career for people who are athletic, and like outdoor stuff and the thrill of making