Bicycle Response Teams Key to Success

Bicycle Response Teams Key to Success

By Maureen Becker
Executive Director

In 2000, the Philadelphia and Los Angeles Police Departments made front page news with their successes during the Republican and Democratic Nominating Conventions.  One of the most memorable articles was penned by columnist Bob Lonsberry.  He wrote, “If God in his glory has an unrealized ambition, it is to be a bike cop in Philly.  A gun on his hip, an embroidered badge on his chest, riding second row in a squad of Good Guys whipping down the street to keep the peace.”

Just a few months later, at the 2001 IPMBA Conference in Cincinnati, IPMBA board member Don Hudson of the LAPD conducted a workshop introducing the tactics and techniques employed during the DNC.  This was expanded into a pre-conference course at the 2002 IPMBA conference in Ogden, Utah.  The Bicycle Rapid Response Team Training course, taught by members of the LAPD Bicycle Rapid Response Team, took Ogden by storm, causing citizens to stop and stare as the class rode through the streets, decked out in gas masks and riot helmets. 

Over the next few years, news reports of bicycle response teams in action started to trickle into the IPMBA office.  Multi-agency teams were deployed during the 2004 FTAA meeting in Miami, and again at the 2005 Organization of American States in Fort Lauderdale.  In cities like Seattle, Tacoma, and Washington, DC, bicycle response teams were increasingly used for crowd management and control during a variety of events, some peaceful, and some not. 

Despite their success, bicycle response teams were used primarily in cities with large bike units and frequent protests.  They were relatively low-profile, and although IPMBA continued to promote the Bicycle Response Team Training, the concept did not gain the anticipated momentum.  Those who did attend the training, however, put it to good use. 

Fast forward to 2008 and the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in Saint Paul and Denver, respectively.  In the eight years since the last time bikes were deployed on a large scale at a nominating convention, online news reporting had exploded, YouTube was launched, and social media sites were changing the face of information exchange.  Not a day of the conventions went by without seeing bicycle response teams in action (view the Bicycle Response Teams playlist at http://www.youtube.com/ipmbavid.)  Almost all footage contained images of bike officers in formation, using their bicycles as barricades, moving crowds in the desired direction, and penetrating crowds to effect arrests.  Meanwhile, in Denver, the Denver Health Paramedics bike team provided operational support throughout the DNC, responding to more than 650 calls and logging 7,000 miles.  

At the 2009 G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, and the July 2010 G-20 Summit in Toronto, bike cops again dominated the footage.  Then came the Occupy Movement, which swelled in 2011 to include cities and towns of all sizes.  In some of these locations, bike cops have been integral to protecting the First Amendment rights of the peaceful protestors as well as the residents, but why not in all? 

Despite the overwhelming success of the bicycle response team concept, why was the Bicycle Response Team Training at the 2012 IPMBA Conference not a sellout?  Is it a lack of recognition about the teams’ effectiveness?  Is it a lack of recognition about the need to train bike officers to use these tactics?  Or does it take an impending event like a DNC or an RNC to overcome a department’s inertia and prepare bike officers to deal with protestors?

As the 2012 IPMBA Conference drew to a close, the NATO Summit in Chicago was just getting started.  By all accounts, bicycle response teams were a key to the success of the police operations.  Following are excerpts from articles providing evidence that bicycle response teams are efficient and effective, and here to stay.   

Chicago police to rely on bike patrols to deal with NATO summit protests
by Ryan Haggerty — Chicago Tribune, May 15, 2012

With protesters trying to build momentum toward mass demonstrations at this weekend’s NATO summit, Chicago police have turned to a two-wheeled response to keep street marches under control.

Department leaders have said bicycle patrols will be a key part of their plans to deal with protests and rallies surrounding the gathering of world leaders that begins Sunday, and police bike units have been very visible so far — beginning at May Day marches that started this month.

On Tuesday, bike cops were again in place escorting an immigration march that ended with four arrests, and at a South Side protest against police.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has said the use of the patrols makes sense because large teams of officers can move fast to get ahead of marches and not get snarled in traffic or lag behind on foot.  McCarthy told business leaders at a briefing last week that he has doubled the department’s bike patrol, though officials have not revealed its total number.

“They’re a very, very viable, strategic, tactical unit that we can deploy quickly. And they’re very, very effective in crowd control, and they can cover an awful lot of ground,” McCarthy said.

At May 1 marches, a team of about 30 officers on bikes moved with demonstrators and used the bikes to block the doors of downtown banks when protesters tried to force their way into their lobbies. The scene has been repeated multiple times since then:  Officers turn their bikes sideways in a row, creating a kind of movable barricade between themselves and the protesters.

The bike line was used outside President Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters Monday and at the downtown immigration march Tuesday.
About 30 demonstrators protesting immigration policy walked from West 26th Street in the Little Village, joining up with 70 others at an office tower at 525 W. Van Buren St. that houses immigration court and other federal offices.  The protest, organized by Occupy Chicago and Our Lady of Guadeloupe Anglican Mission, is one of several smaller demonstrations scheduled to be held throughout the city this week in the build-up to this weekend’s NATO summit.

After about an hour, a police supervisor using a bullhorn announced that building management had requested the protesters be forced off the property.  The Rev. Jose Landaverde, who helped organize the protest, and a woman were arrested after they refused to move from where they had been sitting outside the entrance.

After police arrested Landaverde and another woman outside the building, about 40 protesters began walking and running toward the Loop.
Officers on bicycles weaved through traffic while following them and eventually used their bikes to force the protesters back onto sidewalks near Jackson Boulevard and Wacker Drive.  The officers then used the bikes to form a barrier and prevent protesters from getting back into the street.

At least two people were arrested as police tried to keep protesters on the sidewalks before the crowd dispersed.

At Tuesday evening’s protest march, about 20 bike-riding officers repeatedly rode to the front of the crowd of about 40 demonstrators and formed an angled line across Halsted Street to funnel them back onto the sidewalk.  Then officers would walk their bikes next to the sidewalk to enforce the restriction. When protesters slipped in front again, the whole process would start over.

McCarthy Gets High Praise For Leading From The Front During NATO
By CBS Chief Correspondent Jay Levine, Chicago, May 22, 2012

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has been getting high praise from city leaders, Chicago residents, and rank-and-file officers, for leading from the front lines during confrontations between police and protesters during the NATO summit.

Even after more than a week of various protest marches through downtown Chicago and a handful of city neighborhoods, and a number of heated clashes between police and protesters, McCarthy said none of what happened before, during, or after the summit has surprised him.

“I can’t think of a surprise. I think that everything we anticipated, everything that we planned to do, every tactic, ever strategy that we developed, all the training, all the equipment — everything came together in one gorgeous mosaic, if you will,” McCarthy said.

Bicycle patrols were a key part of the plan, used in ways and numbers like never before.  McCarthy said deploying large numbers of police officers on bicycles allowed great flexibility.

“The officers could respond quickly, and when they do, they had a readymade barrier, just like any of those police barriers that we use at any event,” McCarthy said. “The one thing, in my mind, that really stands out is I would double the number of bikes that we had. And I wanna tell you that I give those guys and gals so much credit. Every single cop, every single sergeant, lieutenant, all the bosses – everybody worked their butts off.

“A lot of people spent a lot of time walking around, and it takes a toll, but those guys on the bikes were zipping around everyplace. And by the third day, I’m saying to them, ‘How are your legs?’ and some of them were like, ‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ and others were like, ‘You know what? They feel like rocks.’”

Some of those officers who were on bike patrol over the weekend said they wanted to talk to McCarthy to thank him for being out there with them.

Officer William Brown said, “It means a lot for officers to see the head guy out there, so just wanted to let you know that.”  “I wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world,” McCarthy told Brown...

...Another innovative part of Georgas’ plan involved flooding the area with every bicycle the department owned, and using the city’s network of street level cameras and helicopters overhead to follow the marchers.

“There wasn’t any part of that march that we didn’t have — sometimes multiple — camera views,” he said.

McCarthy, it seemed, was everywhere during the anti-NATO protests. 

The superintendent was out with officers assigned to protest duty at nearly every key moment and location on Sunday, personally leading his officers during the stand-off at Cermak Road and Michigan Avenue on Sunday, where Black Block-style protesters tried to break through police lines.

“I think that it’s my job to ensure that the cops realize, and the sergeants realize, and the lieutenants realize that I’m going to walk in their shoes.  I’m not going to have anybody do anything that I wouldn’t personally do,” McCarthy said. “Leadership from the front … I couldn’t imagine being anyplace else but on Cermak and Michigan on Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t imagine it.”

Georgas said, “In my 20 years in the job, this is the proudest I’ve ever been to see those officers in the blue shirts accomplish what they accomplished out there.”

© 2012 IPMBA (except newspaper excerpts).  This article appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of IPMBA News.

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  • Michael Wear

    I’ve been working with Bike Teams since 1995 and I was in that AWESOME Class in Ogden…

    Currently with the high political publicity of groups like the “Occupy Movement” government officials are seeking responses that create little negative recognition or in the case of Bikes positive recognition.
    How many teams are out there???

    Let Us Know!!!
    Please add you team
    1.  DC-Metropolitan Police DC

    09:06pm, 11/12/2013

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