Oakland cops patrol trail on 2 wheels

By Shari Roach on July 2, 2014, West Orange Times Observer

Photo:  Oakland Police officers Brandon McDonnell, left, and Chris Creegan patrol the West Orange Trail on their specially equipped police bikes. Creegan rides the department’s newest Cannondale bike – popular among law enforcement.

The Oakland Police Department recently received a grant of $1,000 to purchase a new bicycle — an effective tool for patrolling the West Orange Trail and town streets.

The police force was approved for a Justice Assistance Grant from the Federal Department of Law Enforcement as reimbursement after they purchased the new Cannondale Bicycle, complete with lights for the back along with other safety features and police decals.

“We are happy to receive any amount of grant funding,” Oakland Police Chief Steve Thomas said. “And it just so happens that the West Orange Trail runs right through Oakland. [Bikes] can get places where cars can’t, and with so many people using the trail, it is important to have a presence there.”

The bicycle has been in use for about six months now, joining two others already a part of the department. Chief Thomas said it creates a “community-police model,” allowing the officers to become closer to the community and really interact with the residents of Oakland and others passing through on the trail.

“The officer is among the residents,” Chief Thomas said. “A car is kind of a barrier. On a bike, the communication is more open. People aren’t as concerned with the presence of the officers. It is more casual and puts the officer in the same environment as the residents.”

The bicycles have not only been helpful within the town, but have also given the officers a “boost in morale,” the chief said.

Those who have received the proper training enjoy riding and look forward to their turn. They hope to purchase more new bikes in the future and replace the older models. Currently, five out of the 10 Oakland officers are bicycle trained.

“People are excited to see us on the trail,” Officer Chris Creegan said. “And you get paid to work out.”

“We get stopped all the time by people, and they want to talk to us and say thank you and that they appreciate what we’re doing,” said Brandon McDonnell, another officer with the Oakland Police Department.

More than 55,000 people use the West Orange Trail each month (11,800 weekly), which is currently 22 miles long. Bike use is not limited to the trail, though. Officers can be seen patrolling the streets during town events and through residential areas and parks.
Cannondales have heavier frames, making them more durable for rough terrain or high-speed chases. These bicycles are popular among law enforcement because of their strong shock absorbers and their ability to go off-road easily, as well.

“It’s not your run-of-the-mill bike,” Thomas said. “It is specifically equipped for police work. And because the trail is here, it is a natural piece of equipment for us.”

Bicycles have a certain advantage over cars and motorcycles — they allow the officer to advance quietly and undetected if suspicious activity takes place. Police officers are then able to make arrests from the bike and call for backup, whereas a car might alert the criminal of its approach or have trouble fitting through tight spaces. A bike allows for more flexibility in these particular situations.

“It’s cool because you can sneak up on people,” Officer Creegan said.

Officers must complete bicycle training before they can use it for police work. Chief Thomas said the main components of the training include how to patrol using the bike; how to make a stop, mount, dismount and grab the perpetrator; and how to ride up and down stairs and in unusual and difficult environments such as sand or rock. It is an all-inclusive training to equip officers for effective and safe bike use, giving them the ability to successfully patrol the town.

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