Photo: HOUSTON/neighborsgo staff
Flower Mound police officer Jason Rachal is a member of Flower Mound’s newly rebooted police bicycle patrol, which consists of one sergeant and four officers, three of whom are also part of Flower Mound’s 20-member, part-time SWAT team. On bicycles, officers patrol the town’s trail system and other areas a police car can’t access. But Capt. Richard Brooks said the patrol’s main purpose isn’t criminal enforcement, but community engagement.
By DANIEL HOUSTON. Neighborsgo.com, Dallas Morning News, 8 August, 2014
Flower Mound police officer Jason Rachal has two very different sets of gear — one for the SWAT team, and the other a standard uniform he wears on his bicycle.
Rachal is a member of Flower Mound’s newly rebooted police bicycle patrol, which consists of one sergeant and four officers, three of whom are also part of Flower Mound’s 20-member, part-time SWAT team.
“It’s … on the lighter side of law enforcement, I guess you would say,” Rachal said. “The instances and the calls I’ve been on with the SWAT team are certainly more higher-risk type deals.”
On the bicycles, the officers patrol the town’s trail system and other areas a police car can’t access. But Capt. Richard Brooks said the patrol’s main purpose isn’t criminal enforcement, but community engagement.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity of getting officers in situations where those barriers are broken down and [they can] establish relationships with the community,” said Brooks, commander of the department’s special services division.
When police patrol in traditional vehicles, they can sometimes seem inaccessible to residents, Rachal said.
“No one really wants to stop a police officer in a car unless there’s a real emergency,” Rachal said. “On our bikes, people just stop and talk to us.”
The actual patrol consists of a hybrid approach — officers have their own vehicles, but their bikes are stored in the back of the car. They are on their bikes for most of the shift, Rachal said.
“We all are responsible for our individual beats,” he said. “We go out and ride our beat, make sure that there’s not anything that needs to be addressed,” like criminal mischief on the trails.
But along the way, they are encouraged to stop and interact with residents.
Brooks said the program rollout, which began last month, has gone smoothly. The department accepted a lot of applications for a limited number of bike patrol slots, he said.
“We’ve got some great guys in there,” Brooks said. “When there’s a long list of guys that want to get in there and you only have five spots, you get the cream of the crop.”
Having the bike patrol opens the door for a number of small-scale public safety campaigns, Brooks said. At the moment, there is only one, which focuses on bike safety.
If officers see a child biking with a helmet on, they reinforce that behavior by awarding a voucher for ice cream, sponsored by local business partners.
“Having the officers on the bikes talking to the children and talking to members of the community that are biking — just by their relationship, they’re going to improve bike safety,” Brooks said.
If Rachal sees a child riding a bicycle without a helmet, he said, he’ll try to approach in a friendly way and encourage safer practices.
The next time he sees the child, “he has on a helmet, and he’s riding a quarter mile with us,” Rachal said.
Brooks said the police department shut down its old bicycle program for operational reasons, not finances. Police cars allow officers to respond more quickly to calls, he said, and bike patrols dropped off in priority. Today, the department is in a better staffing position and can devote this small team toward the bike patrol again, said Assistant Chief Wendell Mitchell.
The department was able to fund training and equipment for the new patrol through a series of community partnerships with the town’s Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association, Market Street and Fort Worth Scottish Rite.
Kurt McMillan, Market Street’s Dallas-Fort Worth area regional vice president, said the department approached the company about helping to fund the bicycle program. Supporting with this program was a “no-brainer,” he said.
“We know that those things are really good for communities,” McMillan said. “They help put the police officer literally within arm’s reach.”
Brooks said the department hopes to double the size of the program in the next 18 months or so, which would increase the program’s reach and versatility.
“We hope to do that, but it’s just like anything else,” Brooks said. “There’s a funding mechanism involved there, and we just have to get that worked out.”
In the meantime, he said, he expects the program will continue to foster constructive interactions between police and residents.
“Getting the police department and the community and the businesses working together is always positive,” Brooks said.