by Nigel Tottie
North Yorkshire Police
Mention Police Cycle Patrols to most UK residents and they will conjure up images from 50 years ago of the old village "Bobby" riding his rickety sit-up-and-beg bike around the streets, wearing a long black cape and traditional police helmet. Nowhere is this more true than in York, in the North of England. A medieval city, York's centre is still surrounded by its castle walls and the city is nothing if not traditional in its values and outlook. Policing in York reflects these values, with Bobbies in their black pointed helmets and coats still a familiar sight strolling around the city centre, to the delight of many American tourists. All of this changed, however, when York's police moved firmly into the 21st century by reinventing the cycle patrol!
On the 15th July 2002, North Yorkshire Police launched an innovative high-profile uniformed cycle patrol project in York. The "North Yorkshire Police York Community Cycle Unit," established to carry out uniformed cycle patrols in York, was a radical shift away from the traditional foot and vehicle based patrols on which North Yorkshire Police, and most other UK forces rely.
The Unit's objectives were:
- To deliver high quality, high profile patrols;
- To raise the profile of North Yorkshire Police amongst the community;
- To reduce crime and the fear of crime; and
- To increase feelings of safety within the community.
As will be seen, the Unit easily achieved these objectives within a very short period of time.
The project was funded by local businesses who paid for the Unit's cycles, clothing and equipment (£13,287.94 - about $20,400 - was raised); while salaries were funded by North Yorkshire Police.
TRAINING AND EQUIPMENT
To ensure their ability to patrol effectively on cycles, officers underwent training as Advanced Cycling Instructors with the City of York Council's Cycle Training Department, and underwent a medical check by the North Yorkshire Police Occupational Health Unit.
Once deemed fit to patrol, the officers were equipped with good quality, cycle-specific uniforms to make patrolling in all weathers comfortable and safe. This proved to be one of the most important issues for the Unit and kept the officers healthy and motivated - function truly dictates form in cycle patrols. Normal uniform attire was found to be not only impractical but also unhealthy; for example, black uniform safety boots proved to be both structurally inadequate, falling apart within weeks with the constant cycling motion, and inadequately ventilated, causing Athlete's Foot from the heat and moisture build-up on hot days. Once replaced with proper SPD compatible cycle boots, all of these problems disappeared - no more itchy toes!
Cycle design is at least as important as uniform design for police cyclists. Specially adapted Scott MTBs with front suspension forks and front disc brakes gave the handling and braking ability vital in urban areas, whilst high quality lights, blue lights and sirens also proved vital when responding to incidents in pedestrian areas. Visibility is of paramount importance to the police cyclist.
PATROLLING METHODS AND BENEFITS
Officers patrolled in pairs at all times to ensure their safety and the security of their cycles and equipment, and each day at least one pair of officers was working. A combination of day and late shifts (but not nights) enabled officers to remain in the public eye as much as possible, and ensured a high profile within the community.
Officers remained flexible in meeting community needs, and were set, or set themselves, tasks and patrol areas according to those needs. The officers were tasked either by self-monitoring of daily issues which could be tackled by cycle patrols, such as youth disorder, damage and crime hotspots; by central tasking through the Area Tasking and Co-Ordination Unit, which evaluates crime and disorder trends; or by Local Tasking Requests from community officers. This flexibility proved vital in meeting the expectations of the public.
The Unit's ability to patrol where vehicles cannot go - cycle paths, alleyways, woodland and parks - led to areas seeing a regular police presence for the first time. The medieval design of York, with narrow streets unable to cope with modern traffic flow, also allowed officers to respond more swiftly than vehicles to many incidents. It was not unusual for cycle officers, first on the scene of an incident, to make an arrest, wait for the van to collect their prisoner, and then cycle to the Custody Area and wait for the van to arrive some 5-10 minutes later!
The benefits of cycle patrols were best demonstrated by the Unit's results in its first six months, in which officers:
- Arrested 102 offenders
- Attended 542 incidents
- Cycled 7071 miles
- Carried out 66 stop-searches
- Arrested 12 people as a result of property recovered from those searches
- Detected 70 crimes
- Carried out around 3465 hours of patrol
- Took no time off work due to sickness or ill-health
- Initiated a scheme in which 245 cyclists in York were dealt with for lighting offences
- Saved North Yorkshire Police £1500 in fuel costs.
Research of these results showed that the cycle officers had an arrest rate 45% higher than that of their vehicle-based colleagues, a stop-search rate 164% higher and an arrest rate from stop-searches 71% higher - a direct result of the greater mobility, flexibility and increased speed of response enjoyed by cycle patrols!
On several occasions Unit officers successfully detained suspects after foot officers had been outrun, and several drug arrests were made by officers riding right up to offenders without being seen or heard, leaving them unable to dispose of evidence. As the officers did not meet the criminal stereotype of a police officer, both in their mode of transport and uniform, such arrests were surprisingly easy.
In addition to the patrol benefits of the cycles, there was overwhelming support for the scheme from the public of York. Officers handed out questionnaires to members of the public during the first six weeks of the scheme to gauge public opinion. Of the 30 questionnaires handed out, 26 were returned, all of which were clearly supportive of the scheme and in favour of its continuation. Most noteworthy was that all of the respondents stated that the presence of the cycle patrols made them feel reassured and less likely to be a victim of crime. The unit also received several letters of appreciation, and has been the subject of media interest on both a regional and national level.
Undoubtedly the approachability of cycle patrols is the key to their success. It was not unusual for Cycle Unit officers in York to find difficulty in moving around the pedestrianised areas of the City Centre due to the number of people who wished to stop and speak, initially about cycles and cycle patrols, and then about more general policing and community issues - clear evidence that accessibility works.
The benefits of cycle patrols for effective policing are clear, both in terms of physical results and efficiency. These results are in part due to the positive effects cycle patrols have on officers themselves. In York, the motivation of the team remained high throughout the pilot - not only did the officers greatly enjoy what they were doing, they were also constantly reminded of public approval; the stream of appreciative members of the public wanting to stop and talk gave ample evidence of this.
Cycle patrols appear to hit all of the target areas for a police service trying to reassure its communities and reduce their fear of crime. They are perfectly suited to deal with the anti-social behaviour which impacts so many peoples' lives, combining speed and mobility with stealth of approach. Even with high-visibility uniforms, officers found it all too easy to approach individuals and groups without detection. Combine these factors with the public reassurance which cycle patrols promote, and it is easy to see that cycles strike the perfect balance between accessibility and mobility in the urban environment, arguably to the benefit of all.
The York Community Cycle Unit is currently undergoing an expansion which will see the four officers used during the pilot increased to ten, providing 24 hour cycle cover seven days a week. This expansion should see even better results returned for North Yorkshire Police.
© 2003 IPMBA. This article first appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of IPMBA News.