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.
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 – 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. 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, so it should be illegal to profile motorcycle riders, the bikers said.
“It does occur,” said Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, the sponsor of a bill to outlaw profiling of motorcyclists. “It’s just wrong and it has to stop.”
The Washington State Patrol is particularly apt to pull them over, said David Devereaux, of Tacoma, wearing the Outsiders Motorcycle Club colors.
When bikers showed up last year for Black Thursday, their annual lobbying day, a state trooper 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 State Patrol, denied that troopers profile bikers or any other group. The agency did collect 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 gathered 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?
There are many types of motorcycle organizations, from Christian bikers to stock broker bikers, Devereaux said. The Hells Angel stereotype sells movie tickets, but it’s a fraction of all bikers; besides, laws already give police the power to arrest criminal gangs for what they do. Treat bikers no better or worse than regular citizens, Devereaux said.
“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 than waiting a few days as is normal. Klippert, the lone “no” vote, said he’d support it, too, with some minor revisions.
The bikers were elated. While accepting hugs and high-fives from fellow motorcyclists, Devereaux was asked about the prospects 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.”