Improved community relations, cost savings, faster officer response times and environmental benefits are just some of the reasons campuses are putting their public safety officers on bikes.
by Christopher Bennett and Maureen Becker, Campus Safety Journal, Jan/Feb 2010
Bikes are less threatening than patrol vehicles
The novelty of a police officer on a bike is often enough to start overcoming the negative perceptions that some members of a culturally diverse campus population have about law enforcement.
Unlike patrol vehicles, which often reinforce these perceptions, bicycle patrols give an opportunity for a new impression (Menton, 2007). Most of the negative attributes associated with vehicle patrol officers - flashing lights, double parking and a noticeable wait time between arriving on scene and attending to the issue - are not associated with bicycle officers. As a result, those who come in contact with bike officers may be more cooperative and willing to listen.
Other bicyclists are more accepting of bike patrol officers
Cyclists can connect with bicycle officers on different levels than vehicle patrol officers. They may be more receptive to education and/or enforcement efforts related to cycling behavior and more apt to follow advice on how to prevent bike theft. These individuals might develop a camaraderie with bike patrol officers that would not occur with law enforcement personnel riding in their cars. This camaraderie is important to community-oriented policing.
Bicycle patrols result in more than twice as many contacts with the public than vehicle patrols (Menton, 2007)
Students, faculty and staff are more likely to talk about legal matters, directions, parking information, or ask for information from a campus bicycle patrol officer. These positive contacts help counter stereotypes of police officers as "out to get you" and reinforce efforts to establish relationships of trust between the community and the department.
Bicycle police/security uniforms help officers to quickly transition from their traditional law enforcement duties to more service oriented work
There is no doubt that the dressed down yet authoritative appearance of a bicycle officer's shorts and shirt provides a campus constituent with a different, less threatening experience. Agencies can opt for the traditional "Class A" style or a more relaxed golf-style shirt depending on their desired image.
Perpetrators don't notice bike patrols
Individuals who break the law normally are not looking for bicycle officers. They are concerned with marked and unmarked squad cars (Kariya, 2004). Any bicycle patrol officer will relate story after story of riding up to crimes in progress, unnoticed or unrecognized by the perpetrators until the very last moment.
Bike patrols can go where traditional patrol vehicles can't
One of the biggest advantages to bicycle patrol is its ability to navigate swiftly around a campus, avoiding obstacles and hazards that would stop a patrol vehicle in its tracks. University and college campuses are characterized by car-free zones, clusters of buildings with limited vehicle access, constant construction, events of all kinds, texting pedestrians, and people skateboarding and even bicycling into traffic.
Responding to calls in a motor vehicle can take a great deal of time, and often the car can't access a remote location or is blocked by pedestrians or other barriers. As for events, whether the situation is a sporting event, concert or student protest, bicycle police have the unmatched ability to be in the center of crowds with the means to get to other areas quickly.
Bicycle officers can use all of their senses to detect illegal activity
Bicycle officers encounter crime as it is happening and can see, hear and even smell clues that lead them to areas where crimes are being committed.
Brad Miller, a Lewisburg bicycle officer, describes his apprehension of a suspect, saying, "As I began to ride past a building, a [Bucknell University Public Safety] car pulled alongside. Right then, I heard something in the bushes. That's right. I HEARD something that the officer in the car would never have heard," (Miller, 2006).
Cycles have other uses
While essential for community policing initiatives, bike patrols can be integrated into other operations and initiatives. Targeted enforcement, surveillance, traffic enforcement, and public order are just a few ways in which bike officers can be deployed.
Even in unruly crowd situations, bike officers have a unique ability to develop a rapport with the members, defusing situations before they get out of control. When they do, bike patrol officers can not only maintain swift response times, but their bicycles can become a useful barrier. Bicycle officers are trained to hold up their bicycles at chest level while standing next to another bicycle officer. When the command is given, the bicycle officers march as one unit with the very sturdy, very light bicycle frame used as a shield (Goetz, 2002).
Bicycles cost much less to purchase and maintain than traditional patrol cars
The average fully equipped police bike costs around $1,000 and, properly maintained, will last for years. They don't need gas for operation, nor the full-sized parking spaces required by other vehicles.
Bikes provide environmental and health benefits
Because bike patrols run on human power rather than gas, their carbon footprint is much smaller than patrol cars. With zero emissions and less need for pavement, bicycle patrols may be an attractive option for campuses with green initiatives.
Additionally, bike patrol officers tend to be healthier and more physically fit than their car-bound brethren. This has the side benefit of improving the department's image and cutting down on donut jokes.
Christopher Bennett is a public safety bicycle patrol officer at DePauw University and Maureen Becker is executive director of the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA).
Copyright 2010 Campus Safety Journal