By Brent Brown, Daily News, May 13, 2017
Contributed Photo Greensburg Police Officer Michael Colson, seen here at his swearing-in ceremony last fall, will head the GPD's bike patrol program.
GREENSBURG IN – Greensburg Police are set to begin a new bike patrol program intended to stop crime in alleyways and on walking paths while also giving officers opportunities for closer interactions with the public.
Greensburg Chief of Police Brendan Bridges said the department will utilize three bicycles for the new patrol effort, which is slated to begin within the next two weeks.
The 2015 model Trek brand mountain bikes are designed for police use and are equipped with lights and sirens. They are also “built to hold up,” Bridges said, and are equally suited for street and off-road use.
The police chief described the bikes as “top of the line” and said they were acquired at a discounted price – and at no cost to taxpayers -- from Bicycle Station, Columbus-based retailer. Bridges is an avid cyclist outside of his police duties, and he said positive experiences with the bike shop led him to work with that business to select bikes suitable for the program.
Bridges said the voluntary program will involve four to six officers and will improve access to areas prone to illegal activity where the use of a police car is impossible – or at least impractical.
Such locations include downtown alleys and the Charles L. Buell Walking Trails, both of which have been havens for drug abuse and improper disposal of hypodermic needles. Break-ins and burglaries have been a problem in alleys throughout the city, the chief added.
By using bikes instead of patrol cars, officers will be able to quickly access areas for patrol and when a possible crime is reported. Bicycles, of course, make far less noise than a car, so the bikes can also help officers get a jump on criminals.
Beyond that, Bridges said the program allows for more personal interactions with the public, in addition to increasing officer visibility, which in itself can be a deterrent for crime.
“Citizens will be able to have better communication with officers,” said the police chief. “Officers will be easier to approach by being on a bike. It is easier to get the attention of an officer on a bike than it is when they are in their patrol vehicles.”
The program has been a goal for Bridges nearly since he was appointed interim chief in late 2014 by then-Mayor Gary Herbert. He was officially appointed as department chief the following spring.
Early in his tenure, he heard from residents, city and county officials and fellow officers of the problems taking place in alleys and at the walking trails, which prompted him to reach out to other law enforcement agencies for input on how they have tackled such issues.
“I wanted to get a feel for what they were doing,” Bridges said.
Fellow officers noted the walking trails had become a site for improper needle disposal, making it clear that policing efforts in that area would have to improve.
“We wanted to make sure we could police those areas better,” said the chief. “Everything just kind of led us to this [the bicycle patrol program].”
Once he decided a bike patrol might be the best way to handle the issues, Bridges put a plan in motion to acquire the bikes without burdening taxpayers.
“We were hoping it would be successful, but the main goal was to find a way to get the money needed raised by donations or grants,” said Bridges. “We were able to do that, and get the community’s support behind us on this.”
Grants and donations from the Decatur County Community Foundation, Honda Manufacturing of Indiana, Walmart and the Decatur County Community Action Coalition helped the program get underway.
To keep it sustainable in the future, fundraisers and donations will be needed, but the goal of not utilizing tax money to fund the bike patrol remains in place.
“We are looking at asking for donations and holding a fundraiser,” the chief explained. “We are also looking into some grants.”
The program includes special uniforms officers will wear while on bike patrol, as well as helmets which are required to be worn by officers while using the bicycles. Equipment for general bike maintenance was also purchased. In all, the program cost about $8,000, the chief said.
Patrol Officer Michael Colson, who joined the GPD in 2016, will lead the effort.
The bike patrol is a step toward another future goal of the department: the institution of a wellness program.
Officers have an on-site gym that can be utilized for fitness or training, though Bridges said the equipment is old and needs replaced. He plans to present to the City Council a plan for a department wellness program next month that could lead to the purchase of better equipment. Bridges noted that Greensburg Fire Department personnel, some of whom share the 201 S. Broadway location, may also make use of the improved equipment.
“My feelings are I want to give our officers the best equipment to keep themselves in shape,” said Bridges. Doing so could also help the city by lowering insurance costs, he reasoned, among other possible advantages.
Bridges noted that the bike patrol will not impact regular vehicle patrol efforts, and he added that the program has been well-received by officers.
“Right now, we’re wanting the weather to stay a little consistent so we can get moving on this,” Bridges said. “But they’re eager to get started.”
Bridges said the bike patrol coincides with bike safety programs officers have conducted for children in the community. They also hope to expand to a bike rodeo (a type of educational bicycle clinic) in the coming months, the chief said.
“This will be an ongoing process, now and in the future,” said Bridges.