Keizer police use bikes to connect with community

Joce DeWitt, Statesman Journal10:43 a.m. PDT May 2, 2014

A pickup carrying two suspects eluded police for several blocks in Keizer on Tuesday, April 29, after it was reported stolen out of West Salem the day before.

Many people saw and heard how the chase ended: It came to an abrupt conclusion at River Road and Lockhaven Drive N when it crashed into a parked minivan. Police say the suspects jumped out of the white Toyota pickup and took off in different directions. One eventually got nabbed by police officers on his way out of a nearby pharmacy. He's now in the Marion County jail with a list of charges, including unauthorized use of a vehicle, theft, attempted burglary and parole violation. The other one's whereabouts are unknown.

But few know how the chase began, which brings us to three Keizer Police officers riding bicycles through the maze-like streets of Keizer Station. These officers comprise the department's Community Response Unit, or CRU, and they just so happened to be on their bikes for the first time Tuesday morning when they spotted the suspicious white truck.

Sgt. Bob Trump, one-fourth of CRU, said they ran the truck's license plate and it came back stolen, prompting them to activate their lights (yes, the bikes have lights). This caused the truck's driver to take off. While the bicycles weren't fast enough for the likes of the vehicle, it took little time for the officers to contact their colleagues in patrol cars, who quickly caught up with the Toyota.

Incidents like the one on Tuesday illustrate the goal of this newly-commissioned unit: make good citizens feel comfortable and law-breakers uncomfortable. Through the use of crime analysis, the four officers on the unit frequent public and residential areas that often attract a police presence to improve livability and promote a sense of safety.

"Our purpose is simple," Trump said. "Use bicycles for another mechanism to interact with the public."

Simply put, the unit, which includes Trump, Officer Jeremie Fletcher, Officer B.J. Olafson, and Officer Kevin DeMarco (who was out last week), gets to connect with people who may not otherwise call police.

"It's just to be a presence out there in the community," Trump said.
Cara Steele, a crime analyst at the Keizer Police Department, helps the unit determine where they should direct their efforts and resources.

"When I'm looking for an area, I'm looking whether we can effect change in it," Steele said.
Bikes can get places that patrol cars can't, she said. They are also less intimidating.

"Bikes can go into a park and make contact with a family unit," Steele said.

On Thursday afternoon I followed the three officers as they rode their matching black Fuji bicycles around Keizer Rapids Park, where people came to enjoy the sun. CRU officers wear fairly distinguishable uniforms: helmets and black collared shirts that read "Police" in white letters across the back.

They rode at a comfortable pace (mostly because I was walking behind them) along the park's paved trails, greeting everyone and chatting with most people they passed. The interactions were casual: they asked people how they were doing and informed them that they plan to be riding around more often.

"We've chatted with a lot of people," Trump said. "We chat with people about things in their neighborhood about things only they would know about."

Contrary to the way people would conceivably act when a patrol vehicle drove up to their home, people in the park seemed genuinely happy to see the officers as they walked along in the park. Some park patrons even stopped the officers as they rode by to discuss livability issues and how they wish a certain issue they've encountered for a long time could be addressed by law enforcement.

"It's interesting talking with people," Trump said. "You always learn a couple things you didn't know."

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