Police officers on bikes: Anne Arundel’s secret weapon

By JAKE LINGER jlinger@capgaznews.com, October 17, 2013, Crofton-West County Gazette

Kam Cooke and Dominic Scali are used to people peeking at them through bent window shades, wondering what they’re doing in the neighborhood.

Some people continue spying from the safety of their homes, but Scali said plenty of others will eventually approach him and Cooke.

“Most likely we’ll be solicited by the people in the homes before we solicit them,” Scali said.

Cpls. Scali and Cooke are full-time members of the Anne Arundel County Police Department’s 15-year-old Centralized Bike Unit. Both officers have been in the unit for four years.

The bicycle unit, usually based in Glen Burnie, has been temporarily reassigned to patrol the Chapelgate neighborhood in Odenton.

Police Chief Kevin Davis told Chapelgate residents during a recent community meeting that the bicycle patrols will continue through Thanksgiving.

The investigation into a shooting that injured a 19-month-old girl in Chapelgate in September has yielded no solid leads.

Scali and Cooke were assigned to Chapelgate prior to the shooting because residents complained to the department of potential drug activity and loitering, police spokesman Justin Mulcahy said. Cooke said their patrol could prove advantageous to the department’s investigation.

“Sometimes when they want to get a little more information or change (police) perception, the best thing to do is put people out on bicycles and ride,” Cooke said. “That’s what we do.”

The work is satisfying for the both men, and the job, which Cooke calls “the best kept secret in the police department,” is perfect for a pair of avid recreational cyclists.

“If you’re a bike rider, as long as you’re on a bike, it’s a good day,” Cooke said.

Overall, the county has the capability to put some 40 bicycle patrol officers on the streets at any given time.

Cooke called the bike unit true policing.

“When I’m on this bicycle, I have all my senses — I can hear, I can see, I can feel the environment,” Cooke said. “When I’m in a police car, I’m just driving by and nothing changes other than the next street sign.”

The Centralized Bicycle Unit doesn’t only patrol crime-ridden neighborhoods for criminals. They provide support for large-scale traffic details such as when Pfc. Bradley Manning, convicted of leaking classified government information to WikiLeaks, was on trial and being supported by protesters outside Fort George G. Meade.

The unit also made its presence felt by supporting a recent benefit ride to honor Patricia Cunningham, an Annapolis High School cross-country coach killed while riding her bike in August.

“We have a passion for what we do,” Scali said.

The unit held a bike safety event Sept. 26, and another is scheduled for Oct. 26 at Bruster's Real Ice Cream in Glen Burnie. Riders will have the opportunity to ride alongside Cooke and Scali and to learn a little about bike safety and the benefits of using the B&A Trail.

“It’s a positive community outreach event,” Scali said.

Scali said the bicycle unit often receives mixed reactions to the nature of its patrols. Some people are simply unaware such a unit exists. Others, he said, wonder aloud if he and Cooke are being punished with their assignment.

He sure hopes so.

“If I’m being punished by riding a bike every day, shaking hands and saying hello to the neighbors and business owners,” Scali said, “I’ll take that punishment any day.”

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