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Spin Control

Bikers win a round

OLYMPIA – One of the surest things about this legislative session is that police officers will be honored.
The only real question is how many proposals, from better pension benefits for slain officers’ families to constitutional amendments to keep more bad guys in jail, will be buttressed by references to six officers killed in two months on the West Side.
Opposition to one bill was denounced last week as an invitation for Washington to be the “cop killer capital of the country.” Should a resolution be introduced to beatify all six, the only likely argument would be whether they should skip the interim step and go straight to sainthood.
With this increased attention to law enforcement, it’s possible the most surprised group to make a pilgrimage to the Capitol last week were bikers. Not the kind of bikers who pedal, but the kind who don leather and “get their motors running.”
A couple dozen bikers, some in the colors of their individual motorcycle clubs, showed up at a hearing of the House Public Safety Committee, asking for a law protecting them from the cops.
They told of being targeted by police, stopped for no apparent reason, searched, questioned and generally harassed simply because they ride around on two wheels instead of four. They call it profiling, and liken it to what minorities, particularly young black males driving nice cars in predominantly white neighborhoods, complain about.
It’s illegal to profile minorities, it should be illegal to profile motorcycle riders, the bikers said.


“It does occur,” Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, the sponsor of a bill to outlaw profiling of motorcycles, said. “It’s just wrong and it has to stop.”
The Washington State Patrol is particularly apt to pull them over, said David Devereaux of the Tacoma, who was wearing the Outsiders Motorcycle Club colors. The WSP uses something called “Basic Biker 101”, he said. It starts with the statement “Bikers are dangerous” and gives instructions on how to gather information about them during traffic stops.
When bikers showed up en masse and on Harley last year for Black Thursday, their annual lobbying day, a state trooper surreptitiously took down all their license plate numbers, Devereaux said. The bikers videotaped the trooper and posted it on YouTube to back up their claim of harassment.


Capt. Jason Berry, head of government and media relations for the patrol, denied that troopers profile bikers, or any other group. About 10 years ago they had a trooper who got the Basic Biker outline from somewhere, Berry said in an interview, but he’s gone and the instructions were never part of any training. The agency did take down license information on all motorcycles at Black Thursday in 2009 because some outlaw bikers were showing off colors and paraphernalia, but that’s not profiling because they took down the information for all participants so “we were treating everyone the same.”
It was a precaution in case “something bad were to happen,” Berry said. When nothing did, “the information was thrown away.”
The WSP has no problem with Kirby’s bill, he added, because it doesn’t profile.
Some committee members tried to draw distinctions among various types of bikers. Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, a police officer when he’s not a legislator, asked if there weren’t legal biker gangs and illegal gangs. Weren’t the Hells Angels running methamphetamine out of California and into the Northwest a few years back?
Spokane isn’t represented on the committee, so there was no one to chime in that the Ghost Riders were also involved in some very ugly stuff in Eastern Washington in the 1980s, from running drugs to murdering a city police officer.
There are many types of motorcycle organizations, from Christian bikers to stock broker bikers, Devereaux said. The Hell’s Angel stereotype sells movie tickets, but it’s a fraction of a fraction all bikers; besides, criminal gang laws already give police the power to arrest them for what they do. Treat bikers no better or worse than regular citizens.
“We’re working Americans. I’m raising two children. I’ve been married for 15 years,” he said.
 Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Pierce County and a former police officer, said he never profiled bikers but knows it happens: “I’m compelled to keep this discussion going.”
That meant having the chance for a floor debate by passing the bill out of committee, which the panel did with the bikers in the room rather waiting a few days as is normal practice. Klippert, the lone “no” vote, said he’d support it, too, with some minor revisions.
The bikers were stunned and elated. While accepting hugs and high-fives from fellow motorcyclists, Devereaux was asked what he thought of the Legislature passing the bill this year.
Maybe not great, he said. “But I thought my prospects for getting it out of committee were pretty small.”


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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

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