Dothan police bicycle unit expands

by Matt Elofson , October 9, 2012, the Dothan Eagle, Dothan AL

Dennis Sallas and Jeff Arnold pedaled their mountain bikes through the Garden District Wednesday afternoon.

Both Sallas and Arnold serve as corporals in the traffic division of the Dothan Police Department.

“The biggest thing we’re looking for when we’re riding around out there is people out of place,” Sallas said.

Sallas said occasionally they’ll come across suspicious people as they patrol the city’s neighborhoods.

“Sometimes they’ll run, but I can ride this bike a lot longer than they can run,” Sallas said.

Sgt. Tim Ellison, a supervisor within the department’s traffic division, said the department has nearly 30 certified bicycle officers. He said the department’s bicycle officers are assigned to three different areas, which include the traffic division and patrol along with a few school resource officers.

Ellison said each certified officer completed a “rigorous” three-day training course, which included biking through confined spaces and down stairs. He also said there are typically two to three bicycle officers assigned to each patrol squad throughout the day.

“We’re certainly going to maintain the bike patrol and hopefully expand on it,” Ellison said.

Sallas said sometimes the bicycle officers are assigned to patrol certain areas of the city based on different types of crimes reported in that area.

“If we get hit real hard with break-ins and burglaries we’re going to try and target those areas,” Sallas said.

Dothan police released information that the Garden District neighborhood had 10 motor vehicle break-ins in one weekend last month. Just last weekend police also received reports of 28 motor vehicle break-ins in the neighborhoods off Flowers Chapel Road and Camelot apartments.

Ellison also said bicycles help police with community relations, often making the officers more approachable to city residents.

“You don’t have that barrier of a car between you and them,” Ellison said.

Officer Cade Wells, a bicycle officer in the traffic division, recently served at a bicycle and a child safety seat clinic held by the department last weekend.

“The bike makes it a whole lot easier for people to come talk to us,” Wells said.

But Ellison also said using a bicycle gives an officer another way to patrol the city. He said bicycle officers also patrol the city’s parks and shopping areas.

“We can respond to a call out there, and just patrol it making some of the joggers feel more comfortable if there’s some police presence,” Ellison said.

Riding a bicycle through shopping areas often helps them in their parking enforcement duties, especially with the disabled parking spots.

Ellison also said using a bicycle can give the police tactical advantage giving them access to areas their patrol car won’t take them.

Officer Tim Powell, a patrol officer who is bicycle certified, said they’ve found some paths and passageways through woods either behind local businesses and near local housing subdivisions.

“There’s a path to Johnson Homes from Martin Homes,” Powell said. “We’ve always known about it, but we’ve never had the ability to go down it.”

Powell remembered a motorist yelling at them as he and Matt Krabbe worked patrol on their bicycles in the Garden District a few months ago.

“We were in front of him and we laid the bikes down on the ground to get them to stop,” Powell said.

Powell said they discovered the man inside the vehicle had drugs on him, which resulted in a felony marijuana arrest.

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