By James Whitlow, Danville Register & Bee, February 6, 2019
On warm days like Wednesday, Lt. Richard Chivvis of the Danville Police Department wishes he could ride a bike. And some police officers may get that chance soon.
But that change could require conditioning and policy changes for those who want to get out on the road.
“There would have to be some form of physical preparation,” Chivvis said. “People think it is just riding a bike,” but it is much more.
The department aims to roll out the bike patrol to rotating patrol divisions by summer — alternating the days and the officers who ride the bikes, Chivvis said. The program, while still in its infancy, is coming together, and the department hopes to appoint a project coordinator by Feb 15 to receive training, purchase the equipment and begin to draft the unit’s policies.
Those policies, Chivvis said, can be complicated. Procedures for leaving a bike — does it have to be locked up? — and pursuit on a bicycle, among other codes, would have to be developed, he explained.
“It is going to have to be a lot more to it than that,” he said. “Imagine all that we have to implement … that is just a lot that we are going to have to consider.”
Those who want to ride the bikes will have to meet a minimum fitness threshold, Chivvis said. The police department does not set a minimum standard for its officers — excepting SWAT team members.
The bike patrol will primarily serve community engagement purposes, Chivvis said, allowing officers to socialize and meet with the people they serve. And the concept of a bike patrol, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Averett University James Hodgson said, is rooted in community policing.
“It is sort of history repeating itself as far as a mode of transportation,” Hodgson said. “Back in the day, police patrol was done… on bicycles.”
Officers on foot were succeeded by officers on horses, which were eventually replaced with bicycles, Hodgson said, as community policing efforts across the country began to take off in the early 1980s. About 25 years ago, Hodgson said, bicycle patrols started popping up in some police departments, but they became more widespread 10 years ago.
The central thrust of the bike patrols is to build trust with the communities that officers serve and to provide visibility to the department. That visibility, Hodgson said, can lead to better police work and more reliable crime tips.
“A major part of community policing is engaging the public… riding around a patrol car is anything but that,” he said. “If the public isn’t going to be involved… our system quits working.”
Officers are more approachable on a bicycle than in a cruiser, Hodgson said. So when a crime is committed, those affected may choose to call a face they know from around their neighborhood instead of dealing with whatever officers who respond.
“Because of the trusting relationships that often develop between community members and officers,” Hodgson said, “typically those community members will call the bike patrol or area foot patrol directly.”
Police departments were commonly evaluated chiefly on their response times and number of arrests. For speed of response, the car was unbeatable. But in recent years, police departments have been evaluated more qualitatively than on their raw numbers Hodgson said.
Chief of Police Scott Booth mentioned bringing a bike unit back to the police force as early as March 2018 at a forum Averett hosted. The department had a bike patrol program under its previous community policing unit in the 1990s, but it faded away over the years.
But Lt. J.W. McLaughlin remembers his time in the community policing unit. He and his partner, based out of the Green Street precinct in 1996, would ride the immediate area to calls for service. The new incarnation of the bike program would be more focused on engagement than enforcement, he said, but he still remembers his time on the bike fondly. Though his position on the force requires him to be at the station coordinating patrols, he said he would take part in the program if he gets the chance.
“I enjoyed it,” McLaughlin said. “If I have the opportunity I may… get out there again.”