Bicycle patrol units have become increasingly popular over the past decade. They have proven to be a cost-effective, efficient, and a meaningful supplement to traditional patrol techniques. Whether used for high-impact street enforcement, community problem-solving, public relations, special events, security details, or other uses, bicycle patrol is here to stay in the new millennium. Starting or maintaining a bicycle unit can be simplified with the right knowledge and equipment. This article will outline some thoughts for your existing bicycle patrol unit or for implementing a unit for the first time.
Consequently, purchasing the proper equipment is essential. Bicycle patrol-specific products have been designed, tested, and tailored to fit the special needs of the patrol cyclist. A quality product will stand up to the use and abuse, wear and tear, and special demands placed on them. Many vendors are now several generations into their production, and they are constantly improving their product quality and durability. Bike patrol is significantly more demanding than riding a bike for leisure. A serious patrol cyclist takes into consideration their fitness level, diet and nutrition, as well as other concerns specific to patrol cycling.
Patrol cyclist-specific products are also designed to be lightweight and comfortable. Bike patrol officers must spend eight or more hours per day in the elements--rain, snow, changing temperatures and varying types of terrain. Having the right products can reduce fatigue, prevent dehydration, minimize the chance of injuries, and lower the amount of down time from equipment failure and malfunction.
New products are constantly being developed, and it is critical to research what is available. Find out from other departments what equipment has worked well for them, as well as guidelines and recommendations for what hasn't and why. Some basic recommendations follow below.
The duty belt itself should be a nylon or synthetic construction. In addition to being more flexible than leather, these materials can usually be cleaned with soap and water, and they will dry quickly if dampened from sweat or rain. Leather products will tend to bleed black dye when they get wet, leaving a large black dye band on the shirt and pants around the beltline. In addition, leather tends to dry and crack when repeatedly exposed to moisture. Maintenance of leather requires constant use of conditioners or softeners when used in a bicycle patrol function to prevent damage. Better to put the leather belt in the locker and use nylon or other synthetic belts for patrol cycling applications.
When purchasing a holster for bicycle patrol, it is best not to deviate from what is used for motor patrol. You should make the assumption that you may find yourself in the same types of challenging situations as when you are on motor patrol. If you have trained your whole career to draw, fire, and holster from a level three security holster, stick with it. Muscle memory will take over in a high stress situations.
Using a level three high quality security holster that costs around $120 for daily use, and a single level bargain basement holster for $30 for bicycle patrol, doesn't make sense. In addition, a quality holster is more likely to prevent accidental unholstering during crashes or falls. Consider using the exact make, model, and security type as what you currently use. Stick with what works best for you and what you know best.
Flashlights should be compact. A large multi-cell metal flashlight will be extremely uncomfortable banging against your leg, and is likely to fall off when trying to overcome obstacles on patrol (stairs, ascents, descents). Whether rechargeable or not, a smaller, compact light, such as Stinger or SureFire brands, work well for bike patrol. They are lightweight, durable, and can be easily secured to the belt. Patrolling in daytime, you may find yourself in a dark building or basement, and need some type of light. Leaving the large multi-cell in the car and not carrying a flashlight isn't an option in anytime of the day or night.
Batons should be compact as well. A collapsible baton works well in bicycle patrol applications. Not having a baton on your person is not an option if you ordinarily carry a baton for duty. Same rule of thumb applies for chemical sprays and tasers. What you train with and have committed to muscle memory shouldn't change based on car versus bike assignment. Reaching for the baton that you desperately need that isn't there because you only carry it when assigned to motor patrol can be devastating. If you carry these items normally, carry them all the time. That way all the equipment you have come to rely on will be there should you need them in a difficult situation.
Other considerations include using featherweight handcuffs to shave weight. Also, carry a radio earpiece and hands-free microphone set similar to those used on motorcycle patrol. Microphone headsets are available specifically designed for bicycle patrol applications; you should keep your hands on the handlebar to prevent accidents and injury. Somersaulting over the handlebars can cause serious injuries. Emergency room visits from bike accidents are commonplace. Anything you can do to prevent injury is money well spent.
As important as what equipment you carry on your belt is also where to place it. Muscle memory will usually dictate what you are likely to do in an emergency situation. If you normally carry O.C. on your support side while on car patrol, carry it in the same place while on bike patrol. It doesn't make sense to wear equipment one way one day, and another way the next. How you train doesn't change from car to bike assignment. Your duty belt set-up shouldn't change as well. Regardless of your assignment, your equipment type and how you carry them, should stay consistent.
Uniforms designed for bicycle patrol applications are essential. These specially designed uniforms are made with comfort, safety, and extra durability in mind. Most are constructed with Coolmax or other similar fabrics that breathe and dry quickly when perspiration or rain soaked. In addition, the uniforms are made of a stretchable material and constructed with special taper and double thickness where they are likely to rub, to prevent wear and damage.
Most bike patrol-specific uniforms can be ordered with police identifiers and reflective materials to increase visibility in traffic. To help ensure that you are seen and recognized as a police officer, you should have a combination of contrasting colors, retro-reflective materials, and active lighting on the bicycle itself. Some people may argue that displaying a reflective "POLICE" decal on the back of a shirt or jacket is an officer safety hazard. In truth, you are more likely to be struck accidentally as a result of not being seen by a motorist in traffic than attacked by a suspect. Note: retro-reflective material only works in a direct lighting situations (such as from a motorists headlights directly behind you) and will not work if more than a 2-3 degree offset from the lighting source.
For budget-conscious agencies, bicycle patrol uniforms are available in a summer and winter uniform combination. Most vendors offer jackets with removable liners and sleeves, and pants with legs that zip off into shorts. Purchasing only one uniform that can be used year-round results in significant cost savings. Many jackets will also double as a rain jacket with water resistant or repellant materials. Jackets should be large enough to layer clothing underneath for cold weather cycling.
Helmets, gloves, and eye protection should be mandatory pieces of equipment to be worn at all times. Helmets are designed to prevent injuries in a crash or fall. A quality CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) certified helmet can be purchased starting at $40 and up. Visors help keep rain out of your eyes and protect from glare. Firearms training with a helmet on is critical, because helmets can affect prone and other shooting positions, especially those with visors.
Gloves are important to reducing hand and forearm fatigue. In addition, they are a second layer of skin for when you fall, not if you fall. Gloves are available in both open and full finger construction; deciding which to wear is a matter of personal preference.
Leather patrol gloves don't work well for bicycle patrol applications as they quickly tend to become perspiration soaked. This will result in cold hands in cold weather. In addition, leather also can bleed dye onto your hands. A glove designed to reduce handlebar vibration and that has a moisture-shedding flexible material is preferred. Whatever glove type is chosen, bicycle patrol officers should at minimum qualify and receive training with firearms wearing gloves. Gloves may affect shooting accuracy as well as trigger control, especially those with thick palm padding.
Eye protection is far more than protecting against sunglare. It also protects against road and wind debris, rain, and various obstacles that you may encounter unexpectedly (such as low branches or cables). Many cycling glasses come with dark, clear, and amber color lenses for various lighting and weather conditions when cycling. Quality cycling glasses protect against wind irritation and are constructed with safety in mind to prevent shattering and potential eye injuries in the event of a serious crash.
To prevent bone, skin (i.e., blisters) and other potential injuries to your feet, officers should wear shoes designed specifically for bicycle patrol or cycling. Cycling shoes protect the bottom of your foot from pedal pressure. Discount and non-cycling shoes will not protect your foot as well, and over time can cause bone injuries to your foot. Cycling shoes have reflective materials to assist with visibility and recognized in traffic. They can be used in both clipless and non-clipless applications. A police-specific designed shoe usually combines the durability and stiffness of a cycling shoe with extra sole and interior padding needed for all day wearing, walking, and running.
Most police agencies wouldn't even consider equipping their police cars with cheap, inferior equipment from a local discount auto parts store. Likewise, buying police cyclist equipment from a local department or discount store will result in increased incidence of injury to police cyclists and pose officer safety risks that can be easily avoided with proper equipment. Buying the right uniform and equipment the first time will help prevent injuries, frustration, and provide the quality and durability demanded by the modern police cyclist.
Administrators should talk with other departments about their successes and failures related to uniforms and equipment. In addition, ask uniform and equipment suppliers about their warranty and obtaining sample items for test and evaluation purposes. Have officers in the unit try the items, give their feedback, then make purchases based on your officers evaluations and feedback.
Survey your officers from all ranks of the department to find out who has cycling experience and ask them to assist with equipment purchases. Their knowledge and experience in cycling can prove to be invaluable. It doesn't make sense to give the purchasing responsibility to a command staff member who isn't a cyclist and doesn't have experience and knowledge of cycling issues.
It is important to remember that police cyclists face the same dangers as motor patrol officers. They also face the additional dangers of cycling. Careful thought and consideration should be given when outfitting a bicycle patrol unit. Outfitting a bicycle patrol unit appropriately can mean the difference between being an asset or a potential liability to a police department.
Ken King has 10 years of law enforcement experience and is currently with the Lakewood, CO, Police Department. He is a member of and an instructor for the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA).
This article appeared in the May 2004 issue of Law & Order magazine.