By Caleb Vierkant, the Jacksonville Progress, August 19, 2017
Jacksonville TX -- The Jacksonville Police Department recently purchased four bicycles for the purpose of beginning bike patrols.
According to Chief Andrew Hawkes, this is in response to an increase of burglaries the city has seen in the past few months. He said that most of the burglaries occurred in residential areas on the east side of Jacksonville, as well as at businesses along Highways 79 and 69. Hawkes said burglaries tend to increase during the summer.
“It is pretty typical,” he said. “Home burglaries usually pick up over the summer because, you know, teenagers are out of school and are up to no good, sometimes."
“It's just real easy for these burglars on foot, in the dark, to elude squad cars. All you gotta do is hide in the bushes until you see them drive away and then you do your business. So, we started thinking maybe some bikes would be more stealthy,” Hawkes said.
Hawkes said he has heard good things about bike patrols from other area chiefs. Bikes are quieter than a police car, and burglars often aren't aware of a police presence “until we're right on them.”
“I had some seizure money that I paid for the bikes with, the first two, so it didn't cost the taxpayers anything. Then we just this morning [Aug. 16] ordered two more bikes that our citizens' police academy donated money for. So, we're gonna have a full bike unit at no cost to the taxpayers," Hawkes said.
Hawkes said he was able to find a tuition-free certification school in Oklahoma, which he will be sending two officers to on Aug. 28. The class is 44 hours long, over a period of four days. Officers are expected to ride 25 to 30 miles a day.
Hawkes showed a video demonstrating some of the tests the officers will go through, such as riding bikes through obstacle courses, over narrow ramps and down stair cases. He said that there is also a written exam.
“After we get these two guys done, we're gonna send one of our newest officers,” he said. “He retired from an agency in Dallas, and he's got four years' experience on bicycle patrol, and we're going to send him to instructor school. He can put this course on for any of our officers here in town so we don't have to pay to send every officer to get certified.”
The plan for the bike patrols is for officers to place their bikes on racks on their squad cars, according to Hawkes. They will go on patrol to their normal districts. During their down time, between calls, they will then park the car and use their bikes to patrol the area. If an arrest happens, Hawkes said the officer can call another unit to pick them up and transport them.
“We got a good response on Facebook when we announced that we were doing it. Citizens seem to be real positive about it. It's a good community policing tool. It's more personable, especially in neighborhoods where residents see police on bikes as more approachable than in a car," he said.
Hawkes said that the bike patrols will begin in early September, shortly after the officers return from certification in Oklahoma. He also said the bicycle police will be a regular sight at special events like the Tomato Festival, or any special event happening along Commerce Street.