Police Cyclists and Campus Law Enforcement: A Working Relationship

Ptl. Michael Trout, Ohio University Police Department
Athens, Ohio

Campus law enforcement is a unique field because campus law enforcement professionals interact with a specialized community, one that is filled with individuals of all ages, races, religions, and cultures.  These individuals are usually temporary residents of the community, there for educational purposes, and they intermingle with permanent residents, including professionals who have the task of providing them with education and guidance.  Because of their frequent interactions with members of the campus community, it is essential for campus police officers to possess above average public relations and people skills.

In addition, they must be easily accessible.  As campus police departments search for ways to improve and maintain order, as well as develop better police-community relations, more and more agencies are turning to bike patrol.  Bike patrol is not new to law enforcement, but is an ever-increasing and extremely effective tool in proactive policing.  It is remarkably well-suited to the academic environment, and there are many different ways in which the bike can be used to benefit the police department as well as the diverse community it serves.

Benefits to the Agency

From a fiscal perspective, bike patrol has the potential to greatly impact the budget.  A police department can outfit between 7-10 bike patrol officers, depending on the type of equipment selected, for the cost of purchasing and outfitting one police cruiser.  Police bikes do not require the purchase of oil and gas; and because they do not pollute the air with toxicants, the environmental costs are low.  The cost of maintenance on police bikes is minimal when compared to regular maintenance on police cruisers.  Cost savings extend to the human resource department as well; officers on bike patrol are getting exercise.  Exercise benefits the officers by increasing their health and fitness levels as well as improving their morale.  That means a healthier, happier police force whose health insurance costs and sick time are reduced.  The direct and indirect benefits to the campus law enforcement agency are easily identified.

From a community relations perspective, the benefits of bike patrol are numerous.  The citizens of the university community get a more “approachable” police officer.  The bike officer is not sitting in a police cruiser with the windows rolled up, the air conditioner or heater running, and the radio playing.  Instead, he is on his bike, coming in very close proximity to citizens on sidewalks or near other structures.  He is out in the public with no barriers to prevent a community member from approaching.  Curiosity frequently overcomes citizens who encounter bike officers.  They will approach the bike officer to discuss the police bike or specialized equipment seen on the bike. 

The police cyclist’s uniform may also become a conversation piece – the officer may be wearing shorts, a very unconventional police uniform.  The appearance of a bike officer can be less intimidating because the bike uniform does not have all the metal or brass that typically appears on the regular uniform of police officers.  Although the bike uniform does not have this type of material on it for officer safety reasons, namely crashes, the result is that the officer appears more casual and therefore easier to engage in conversation.  People feel comfortable around bike officers, and their very presence can help create a sense of security.  That sense of security is not a false one, for in the enforcement environment, the police cyclist hears more, sees more, and smells more, which leads to easier and more frequent detection of crimes in progress.

One of the biggest advantages to police cyclists is their mobility.  The police cyclist can access areas which are inaccessible to motor vehicles, including police cruisers, and can get there faster than the foot officer.  The typical academic campus is filled with areas designed to be off-limits to cars; if the police typically patrol in cruisers, these areas may attract illegal activity.  Because criminals “hang out” where police officers do not, certain crimes often go undetected.  The mobility of the bicyclist allows him to access these areas and curb criminal activity, often with a faster response time than a motorized unit.  This can be due to traffic congestion and a lack of roads for the motorized unit as well as the availability of pedestrian walkways to the police cyclist.

Bike patrol can be used for a variety of purposes, and area assignments can be specialized.   The police bike can patrol special areas such as parking lots, garages, catwalks, walk/bike paths, trails, and other areas of a campus.  The bike officer can also be used for tactical purposes.  The bike officer, who is generally not recognized as a police officer at first glance, can effectively patrol high crime areas or be assigned to specialized crime details such as vehicle break-ins or vandalisms. 

The bike officer can also be very beneficial at special events of all types.  Bike officers are frequently used at sporting events, often patrolling parking and tailgate areas to enforce alcohol and disorderly conduct violations.  The police cyclist does not fall victim to the traffic congestion, which occurs during these events, and can easily maneuver through the congestion for enforcement purposes or to respond to emergency situations.  The bike patrol can be also be used inside certain events which spread over a large geographic area, such as football games and commencement ceremonies.  Not only is this type of patrol effective against crime, it has an additional benefit:  community relations.  The parents and permanent residents who attend these events are tax- and tuition-paying citizens, and they have the opportunity to interact with police cyclists or just observe how effective the concept can be.

Case Study:  the Ohio University Police Department

The Ohio University Police Department presents an excellent example of effective use of bike patrol in an academic environment.  Ohio University is located inside the city of Athens, Oh., and enrolls approximately 19,000 students.  The campus, which sprawls throughout the city of Athens, is characterized by hills and grassy areas and is divided by a river.  A bike path also runs through part of the campus and is used by many students as well as permanent residents.  Like most campuses, Ohio University has numerous parking lots and garages, academic buildings, residential areas, and office buildings. 

The Ohio University Police Department implemented a bike patrol in 1996.  Currently, seven officers and one lieutenant are trained as police cyclists.  At any given time, one to four bike officers are deployed on a variety of assignments around the campus.  All Ohio University police cyclists utilize high quality mountain bikes complete with a police package.  The bikes are equipped with front suspension fork, emergency lights and siren, and a police bag on a rear rack containing various tools and miscellaneous items.  These items differ among officers, and may include citations, report forms, handcuffs, first aid supplies.  Some police departments find room for binoculars, monocular night vision, and a preliminary breath test device.

Quarterly shift strategies dictate how departmental resources are utilized on each of the three shifts.  All Ohio University Police Department police cyclists are fully response capable, answering all the calls their motorized counterparts do, with the exception of escorts and prisoner transports.  The police cyclists are capable of responding to emergencies, as well as routine calls for service such as unlocks, reports, and other requests for service.  During a regular shift, police cyclists patrol campus property, including parking lots and garages as well as residential greens and office buildings.  They are highly visible not only within the campus limits, but since the university property is not continuous, they are visible throughout the city of Athens as they traverse from one location to the next.

Police cyclists are assigned areas based on shift needs and priorities.  Normally, the police cyclists have “general” patrol assignments and are not assigned a specific area.  However, they are sometimes assigned a specific area, such as those that incur frequent thefts or vandalism, or given specific responsibilities, such as student move-in, block parties, athletic events, organized student gatherings and festivals.  Block parties are one of the more common assignments, as well as the regular weekend parties that occur adjacent to campus property.  As with most college towns, alcohol violations are numerous.  In addition, police cyclists encounter fights, vandalisms, criminal mischief, thefts and other miscellaneous crimes.  Depending on the shift strategy, police cyclists are used to effectively deter and enforce all of these types of crimes. 

Bike patrol on the midnight shift is very successful.  The police cyclist can be seen when he/she wants to be, and invisible all other times.  Police cyclists are experts in using the darkness to their advantage.  By placing themselves in the “trouble” areas, they can be extremely effective in deterring mischievous behavior before it occurs.  They can also react quickly to criminal behavior as incidents unfold.  Because a bicycle is a “stealth” mode of transportation (especially if it is equipped with a silent rear hub), a police cyclist can take full advantage of a heightened ability to hear breaking glass, screams, fights, and other signs of criminal behavior.  Since the bicycle-mounted police officer is not contained within a patrol car, odors such as smoke from fires, or marijuana, are easily detected and the source can be quickly located.  All of these tactics result in proactive policing.

In addition to the daily patrol on bike, OUPD bike officers provide other services to the community both within and beyond the campus boundaries.  The OUPD has developed a number of programs to help serve the community on a more personal level.  On campus, they administer a Facilities Management Program, through which they offer bicycle safety education to university employees who choose to ride a bicycle as their mode of transportation while at work, especially supervisors and employees of the Facilities Management Department.  Their off-campus programs primarily serve the community youth and lower income residents. 

Through the Sgt. Charles A. Butcher Bicycles for Youth Program, the department gives refurbished and new bicycles to children whose families cannot afford one.  The bike officers participate in bike rodeos sponsored by local hospitals.  Through the Kids on Campus Program, they interact with the youth of the community and educate them on bicycle safety issues.  This program branches out into other local programs, such as Kidsfest and Public Safety Day.  Plans for future programs include bicycle safety courses, sponsored by local bike shops, to provide education and skill development to adult cyclists.  


Proper training is essential for police cyclists.  Law enforcement agencies train their officers in all aspects of police skills and bike patrol should be no exception.  Properly trained bike officers are not only more effective but they are also less likely to injure themselves or members of their community.  A well-trained officer knows how to operate a bike in a safe manner and how to use it as a law enforcement tool.   As a result, proper training reduces departmental liability.  Ohio University obtains its training through the International Police Mountain Bike Association, commonly referred to as IPMBA.  An outstanding training organization for bicycle patrol, IPMBA trains and certifies police officers as “police cyclists.” 

The 32-hour IPMBA Police Cyclist course includes various techniques ranging from obstacle clearing and hazard avoidance to community policing to patrol procedures and arrest tactics.  Scenario training includes vehicle prowl, liquor violation, foot pursuit, and traffic stops.  IPMBA offers basic and advanced courses, an instructor course which compares to no other, a course for EMS, search and rescue, and other emergency medical personnel; and a Bicycle Rapid Response course designed to take advantage of the bicycle during large and disobedient gatherings.  Not only does IPMBA offer training, it also provides networking opportunities by channeling information to officers through the IPMBA News and an annual training conference.  

In closing, bike patrol is a growing, effective tool for police departments of all types.  The bike helps to break down barriers between the community and the police department.  It is an effective tool, which allows police departments to take a proactive approach to law enforcement and improve their community relations.  Bike patrol is ideal for the academic environment; no university or college campus should be without one.

Patrolman Michael D. Trout has been a police officer with the Ohio University Police Department for over seven years.  He has been a police cyclist and IPMBA member since 1996.  He has been an IPMBA Instructor since 2001.  Since becoming an IPMBA member he has trained all patrolman at his department and has certified other officers as police cyclists form outside agencies.  Ptl. Trout was awarded the American Legion Officer of the Year for the State of Ohio in 2001 for his role as a police officer and his community oriented policing.  

(c) 2002 IACLEA.  This article appeared in the November/December 2002 issue of Campus Law Enforcement Journal. 

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