Making a Dent in the Cycle of Crime: London Police Service Expands Foot/Bike Patrol

by Carla Garrett, Blue Line Magazine and Gary Strang, PCI #1457
London (ON) Police Service
IPMBA Membership Coordinator

This article appeared in the August/September 2015 issue of Blue Line Magazine.

A recent overhaul to a decades-old bicycle patrol unit in the city of London is making a dent in the cycle of crime in the downtown.

After ramping up its presence with a permanent shift rotation, London Police Service (LPS) saw a dramatic increase in criminal investigations, boasting a 56 percent increase in its first full year. 

“Having a dedicated bicycle patrol team has been a tremendous step forward and the results have been nothing short of amazing,” says Sgt. Gary Strang, who heads up the specialty Community Foot Patrol Unit.  “We have a marked departure from without bikes to with bikes and are on track to beat our 2014 record.”

The unit has experienced substantial growth in the successful apprehension and prosecution of criminals and traffic-related offences, while reducing calls for service on regular patrol.

“Our uniformed presence on foot and bicycle allows members of the Community Foot Patrol Unit to preemptively deal with persons and situations that may later turn into calls for service,” says bike patrol Cst. Casey Schmutz.

The LPS has used bicycle patrol over the past 20 years, but in 2012, under Strang’s leadership, the Service made a significant shift in direction, assigning all bicycle patrol to a 12-officer unit dedicated to providing service to the core area of the city.

The bicycles are primarily used from April to December; members return to foot during the heavy winter months.

“Our previous process of deploying bike patrols sporadically and with random officers was ineffective and of no value to the Service,” says LPS Chief John Pare.

He adds the new model has created a sense of ownership and connectivity that did not exist under the previous system of deployment and improved community relations.

Downtown London associations, which serve to improve and attract businesses and investors, have also seen the benefits of this value-added service.

“It adds a level of safety to the downtown we really appreciate,” says Downtown London CEO Janette MacDonald.  “We are all very reassured to have them here and so visible.”

She says they often see the officers waving as they ride by on patrol or stopping just to say hello.

It is this relationship that allows the police not only to become more effective in their day-to-day duties, but also build bridges and understanding with the community as a whole.

“We get to know our customers on a first name basis.  We have the ability to build respect and trust.  Not an easy task in today’s environment,” says Schmutz.

Schmutz has been a member of the foot patrol unit since 2013 after spending eight years in regular patrol, where he never got an opportunity to develop rapport with the public.

“In my first year in the unit, my eyes were opened to the benefit of face-to-face interaction with the public we serve and the criminal element from which we attempt to protect them,” he says. “This was something that had been missing during my eight years on regular street patrol.”

However, a successful bike unit takes more than presence to be effective, says Strang.  To ensure quick and safe responses to incidents, officers must be properly trained to use their mountain bikes.

“When you get hired as a police officer you have a driver’s license, but they don’t just give you a cruiser.  You are trained in the safe operation of police vehicles.  A bike is a police vehicle and good biking skills are just as important,” says Strang.

These skills are demonstrated in a popular LPS YouTube video.

In the short video, a thief cuts off a bike lock and rides away down a crowded downtown street. Within seconds, two officers on bicycles are expertly maneuvering through both pedestrian and vehicle traffic, cornering the suspect against a parked car.

The cycling officers show immense control, making swift precise movements on the bike while maintaining their speed as they navigate through the cracks and crevices of downtown London.

Strang, a strong proponent of continued education, made a conscientious effort to ensure officers received accredited training on the safe operation of bicycles during police patrol.

The International Police Mountain Bicycle Association (IPMBA) was selected to provide that training, a benefit of which has been a reduction of risk both to the officers and the organization.

“Officers need to be mindful of that fact and learn to operate them to their maximum potential,” says Strang, who has biked to work the past 19 years of his 32-year career .

IPMBA offers internationally recognized certification and training courses.   These courses were developed by experts in the fields of police, EMS, and security cycling.  Public safety agencies around the world use its courses.

This training has provided unit members the ability to safely and comfortably navigate a police bicycle into areas that were previously inaccessible and difficult to patrol.

Currently officers on the unit are only required to complete the training once, but Strang, an IPMBA instructor, says he is looking into a possible recertification process.  There is also talk of expanding the unit with requests coming in from other areas of the city.

The bikes have been positively received by the community and have been a bridge to building excellent relationships, the foundation for public support needed to allow us to get the job done, says Strang.

“It has been well worth the investments.”

By the Numbers

Number of running criminal investigations:

  • 2009:  237
  • 2010:  69
  • 2011:  240
  • Mid 2012 (when bike patrol started) to end of year:  449
  • 2013:  549
  • 2014:  696

Number of occurrences downtown:

  • 2009: 572
  • 2010: 528
  • 2011: 589
  • 2012: 917
  • 2013: 1,023
  • 2014: 1,256

Carla Garrett is Blue Line Magazine’s regional correspondent in Southwestern Ontario.  She may be reached at carlagarrett@bell.net.

Gary Strang is a 32-year veteran of the London Police Service in London, Ontario, and is currently in charge of the bike unit.  He rides to work and has done so for the past 19 years, including during the winter months.  On weekends he races on a road bike.  His favorite quote is, “cycling never gets easier; you just go faster.”  He was certified as an IPMBA Instructor in 2014 and is currently serving as membership coordinator on the IPMBA Board.  He can be reached at gstrang@police.london.ca

This article appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of IPMBA News. 

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