By Max Seng, the Hickory Record, August 26, 2017
Photo: ROBERT C. REED/RECORD: Hickory police officers Joshua Grigg (left) and Victoria Ellis (right) patrol the downtown area on their bikes.
HICKORY – After more than a decade of dormancy, the Hickory Police Department bike patrol is set to hit the streets once again.
Sgt. Dustin Nowatka is heading up the patrol force and will be responsible for much of the day-to-day operations that dictate the number of officers riding and where they are deployed, especially in the evening hours.
Nowatka, a bike patrol school graduate in 1998, said Tuesday at HPD headquarters that much of the administration has gone through the training as well in the past, including HPD Chief Thurman Whisnant.
“It’s a way for us to be seen without being in patrol cars all the time,” Nowatka said.
Nowatka, an avid bike rider himself, also said some of the older officers in the department have previous bike patrol experience and may rejoin once the tires get rolling.
North Carolina law prohibits personal bikes riding on sidewalks, as it is considered a vehicle. Nowatka said that is another important part of the training, becoming more familiar with state bike laws.
“It also helps fine tune the precision with which you ride the bike, very similar to what we’d do in our own patrol car,” Nowatka said.
Nowatka said trained bike patrol officers will be rotated in from usual patrol duties, providing a balance of patrol car and bike vehicle duties.
“We try to balance the number of riders we’ll have each night with the number of calls for service,” Nowatka said.
As for the location, Nowatka said ideal areas will be locations with heavy foot traffic such as Union Square and during events like Oktoberfest.
But, Nowatka said the goal is to have officers on bikes all over the city.
“(HPD) would like for us to be seen primarily in neighborhoods, to deter crime and bring that community and policing model together,” Nowatka said.
The patrol won’t end when the leaves turn, either. Nowatka said in the previous iteration of the bike patrol, several officers, including Nowatka, shied away from riding at night when the weather chilled.
“Since then, I’ve since conditioned myself to ride year around, and I ride more at night now than I do during the day,” Nowatka said. “That was one of the prerequisites I wanted for this new bike unit, not only will you be riding during the summer, but it’ll be year-round during all the seasons.
“We wanted to make this a year-round tool for the city and for us.”