Posted by John Ruch | May 26, 2018 | The Reporter News
Photo: From left, Sandy Springs Police Sgt. Paul Pietruszka, Officer Herschel Duke and Officer Jordan Wright pose with their bikes at City Springs, the heart of their new pedal-powered beat. (John Ruch)
City Springs is getting pedal-powered protection from the city’s first-ever police bicycle patrol.
The new Sandy Springs civic center is partly intended to transform the downtown area into a more walkable and bike-friendly place. For now, it’s still unusual to see bicyclists there – let alone bike-riders carrying Tasers and handguns. So the new patrol has caught public attention.
Sgt. Paul Pietruszka assembled and commands the six-officer City Springs bike squad. He says that since the officers started riding in March, passers-by frequently stop them for a chat and a few questions.
The public reaction? “Mainly shocked” that cops are out of cars and on bikes, says Officer Herschel Duke, one of the patrol members.
“We get a good reception from everybody,” says fellow bike patrol member Officer Jordan Wright. “People tend to like to see us.”
That sort of approachability is one of the pluses of a bike patrol, says Pietruszka. Another is flexibility. With Roswell Road’s traffic, bike officers can “get around faster than a car sometimes,” he said.
The bike patrol is the first non-motor-vehicle police beat since the city formed and opened its own police department in 2006. But years before that, Pietruszka patrolled parts of then-unincorporated Sandy Springs by bike as an officer with the Fulton County Police Department.
Part of the plan for City Springs – which includes the new City Hall and a soon-to-open Performing Arts Center, among other features – was a new police mini-precinct to ensure security. The bike patrol evolved from that plan. Pietruszka began assembling the group in October. Besides the regular patrols, the bike officers have monitored the grand opening of City Hall, the Heritage Sandy Springs Farmers Market and other new events at City Springs.
All the officers are volunteers for the stamina-straining 10-hour shifts of pedal-pumping. Bicycling backgrounds are common. Duke said he was certified in bike patrols in the 1990s while working at the Detroit Police Department, where bikes are largely used for special events and around casinos. Wright previously patrolled by bike for the University of Georgia Police Department.
“We have no home” for now, says Duke, as the city has not figured out exactly where within City Springs they will be based. The patrol is now operating out of a police gym a block away on Hilderbrand Drive. Also available there are patrol cars, which they use if the weather is bad or if they have a suspect to transport to jail.
City Springs is a 14-acre site bounded by Sandy Springs Circle, Mount Vernon Highway and Roswell and Johnson Ferry roads. The bike beat includes not only that site, but the larger City Springs downtown district. The officers ride as far south as Cliftwood Drive and as far east as Boylston Drive.
Their uniform consists of blue, black and gray biking shirts with knitted-in badges, black shorts and matching helmets. They ride mountain bikes that are not of any special design, but some have seen previous police usage. Wright said his bike was used to patrol the 2012 Democratic National Convention in North Carolina.
The slower pace and ground-level view of bicycling helps with crime-spotting, the officers say. Car break-ins are a major concern for their beat, and patrolling a parking lot by bike is much easier.
“I think you can see a lot more stuff that you wouldn’t see in a car. We can go places cars can’t,” says Wright, explaining that the officers frequently check behind commercial buildings and other narrow spots.
With more freedom to move in traffic, Pietruszka says, the officers are responding more quickly to calls in progress, such as shoplifting cases where a suspect can frequently get away before a traffic-bound police car can arrive. They haven’t had to chase down a suspect – yet.
Being on two wheels also means being exposed to more – or at least different – hazards of the roads. One officer already took a spill, suffering minor injuries. “Crossing over Roswell Road’s dangerous,” says Wright, adding that some car-drivers treat them courteously while others drive recklessly close.
“I’m sure it’s the same as any other bike on the road,” says Wright. Well, except that these bicyclists just might pull you over.