Officers on wheels: Chief revitalizes police officer program

Chief revitalizes police officer program

by Hannington Dia, Hudson Reporter, July 8, 2018

Photo:  Officers Paul Martinez, Brendan Bowen, and John Solan with their patrol bikes.

If you’re planning on committing a crime on a North Bergen street some time soon, don't be surprised if a two-wheeled police officer pops up out of nowhere.

“They're quite silent,” North Bergen Police Chief Robert Dowd said, referencing his deportment’s revitalized bike patrol program. “I've seen over the years, officers sneak up on people conducting criminal activities and catch them quite easily.”

Earlier this year, Dowd breathed new life into the initiative, as part of his community policing strategy. Bike cops in North Bergen were more active around the late 1990s, Dowd said.

The department is assigning a mix of 10-12 part and full time police officers to patrol using specialized mountain bicycles. Last year, they only had two bikes on the beat, sporadically. Each bike officer has to pass an intensive training course, including biking up stairs, traveling among vehicles, and learning how to safely fall off. 

The most recent class graduated in May.

Dowd said that the bike detail is more interpersonal than using a car, therefore, a useful component of connecting police and citizens.

“Unfortunately, the busier we get as an agency, the less we can allocate to walking and bicycle patrols,” he said. “But the average citizen, they like to see officers walking on the street, out on bikes—it makes them feel protected and comfortable.” 

Bicycles allow access

When officers patrol using regular vehicles, that impedes their interactions with citizens, as their windows are often up. But when they're on bikes, they're more quickly accessible to citizens, he argues. And the bikes are more efficient than standard walking patrols, according to Dowd. “Let's say there's an officer on 72nd Street and Bergenline, and he was dispatched to a call on 89th and Bergenline,” Dowd said. “It could take him quite some time to get there. But if he's on a bike, he can be there in a few minutes. There's a degree of efficiency that's added.”

Hoboken's Flo on Wheels shop provided the department with the special mountain bikes at $800 a pop. That's a sharp discount from the $850 to $1,000 they usually cost, Dowd said. The bike training costs around $200 per person, included in the department's overall training budget. Each bike features a siren device and light, front shocks, and a small storage bag in the back.

Officer Brendan Bowen, who graduated from the most recent bike training program, also finds it easier to connect with residents.

“It's a less intimidating way to interact with the public,” he said. “You're on a bike, there's other cyclists, a slower rate of speed. You can say, 'Hi' to people, as you ride.”

Part time Officer Paul Martinez said he uses his bike patrol time to focus more on younger people. “For children, I'll ride up to them and show them the lights and stuff like that,” he said. “I like to see the reaction of the parents, how they approve of my interaction.”

According to the officers, they ride an average of three to five miles, per eight hour shift. They generally patrol the town's business districts, such as Broadway. But they do cover other areas, from uptown to downtown, during their runs. 

“The thing I've noticed most is that people don't expect to see us,” Martinez said. “So when they realize that I'm on them, and I'm a police officer, they're like, 'Oh, you're a cop. Let me change my attitude.' ” Martinez has also responded first to medical emergencies on his bike, he said. 

Pedaling through the streets is also a great way to remain in shape, the officers said.

“With the scheduling, sometimes there's limited eating options,” Martinez said. “You're on a bike; you still get your heart rate up.”

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