by Tony Holte, PCI #1035/EMSCI #279
Saint Paul (MN) Police Department
IPMBA Membership Coordinator
Whether you are a brand-new bike patrol officer, trying to create a bike team, or have years of saddle time, you’ve likely run into similar roadblocks. In talking with bike officers from around the world, I’ve detected a common theme in nearly every conversation: “We don’t have a full-time bike patrol unit. I know we could make a huge difference for our department, but we can’t get funding until we prove our value. How can I do that, when I only get to ride when there are enough of us on the street?”
The facts have already been laid out for us by our predecessors: getting officers out of their cars and face-to-face with civilians has a huge impact, whether they are on bikes or not. So I posed the question to myself, “how can I spend more time with the community I serve?” The few times a month I got to ride wasn’t having the impact I knew it could, so I went to my Sergeant and explained my intent. I would drive my squad car with my patrol bike racked on the back during all of my shifts. It took a bit of convincing, not only of my Sergeant, but of other officers as well, but I was granted permission to do it. Now I had to prove myself!
I seized every opportunity to park my squad car and get out and ride. I parked in heavily trafficked areas (strip malls, gas stations, crime-ridden street corners, etc.), which allowed my squad to deter some crime with its presence alone.
Typically, I stayed within a 10-square block area, which enabled a quick response time to assist other officers when necessary. When I wasn’t answering 911 calls, I was able to explore the neighborhoods.
I discovered shortcuts that I had passed by hundreds of times. I engaged face-to-face with residents whom I would typically only have encountered during a call for service. They pointed out various activities and individuals for me to investigate (I love nosy neighbors…at work). I had a blast, racing kids up and down the block, helping them adjust their seats, pumping up their tires, talking about my role as a police officer and getting their helmets strapped on correctly.
I was able to project a positive image for young children who might otherwise have a negative impression of the police. This was beneficial not only for the youth in the area, but for their parents as well. All these opportunities could have been easily missed had I just been rolling around in my squad car.
Finally, I was able to respond to certain calls for service from a different perspective. Once in the area of a call in progress with a suspect at large, I could take my patrol bike off my squad and canvas the area in a non-traditional – or perhaps very traditional – way. Because the bike isn’t limited to often-busy streets, I was able to hit the sidewalks and alleyways quickly, quietly and effectively. And guess what? It worked!
So please, don’t let a lack of officers on your shift be a reason not to ride. Take every moment in your shift and use it to your advantage. Get to know your area, get face-to-face with the people you serve and let them know you’re out there. Have some fun…and catch some bad guys while you’re at it!
Tony is assigned to the Downtown Beat Bike Patrol for the Saint Paul Police Department in Minnesota. He has been riding bike patrol in since 1996 and became an IPMBA Instructor in 2007. He is currently serving as membership coordinator on the IPMBA board and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2013 IPMBA. This article appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of IPMBA News.