The City of Philadelphia purchased its first motorcycles in 1914 for law enforcement purposes looking to capitalize on a new motorized vehicle movement for patrol capabilities. At the onset of this action, these motorcycles were manned by police officers who volunteered for the assignment, stationed across the numbered districts of the city. In the 1920’s, these motor officers were centralized into one and the “Motor Bandit Patrol” was born.
With the rise in organized crime and the impending Prohibition Laws of the late 1920’s, this elite unit of officers grew rapidly to nearly 400 personnel who were equipped with Thompson Sub-Machine guns and patrolled on Harley Davidson and Indian Motorcycles. The Motor Bandits were notorious for apprehending bootleggers, top organized-crime figures and the most violent felons. Their activities would garnish much praise from law enforcement agencies nationwide and the FBI described them as a “one of a kind unit and truly the best uniform officers in the country.”
By the late 1940’s, the landscape of the city was changing, the “Gangster Era” was dwindling and the need for the Motor Bandit Patrol began to diminish. By 1949, the unit had less than 100 officers and their assigned “wheels” reverted, once again, to district patrol. The unit disbanded in 1952.
With the Motor Bandit Patrol diminishing, the Department decided to form a new class of officers in 1950's to make up the “Highway Patrol Unit,” fashioned after its predecessor. In 1952, the Motor Bandit Patrol merged into the newfound Highway Patrol Unit and amounted to nearly 200 officers. The duties of the Highway Patrol included enforcing motor vehicle laws, escorting dignitaries and patrolling high crime areas within the City of Philadelphia.
At the onset of the 1960’s, the city saw much turmoil which revitalize the need for a strong patrolling force. The Highway Patrol Unit, comprised of 157 motorcycles and 12 patrol cars, became well known for its role in the arrests of major crime figures and violent felons yet again. The Columbia Avenue riots of 1964 solidified the reputation of the Highway Patrol as being an elite, fast moving force capable of restoring order in any situation.
From the 1970’s onward, the Highway Patrol continues to make its mark in the law enforcement field. With a reputation for force, professionalism and uniformity in appearance, the “Boot Cops” of the Highway Patrol are well-known by all, from the most violent of criminals in the city to the highest-ranking officials nationwide such as the President of the United States.
Today, officers in this elite unit patrol both on Harley Davidson Road King Motorcycles and in Department Issued Patrol Cars, carrying shotguns and AR-15 Rifles.
The Highway Patrol is home to the most highly decorated and dedicated officers within the Philadelphia Police Department. Officers in this elite unit have always been and will continue to be the “Best of the Best.”