by Ricky Leroux, Marietta Daily Journal, August 02, 2014 04:00 AM
Photo: Powder Springs bicycle police Sgt. Michael Arrowood, left, and officer Joshua Chastain use pedal power to patrol the Silver Comet Trail near Richard D. Sailors Parkway on Friday. Police Chief Charlie Sewell said the bike unit was first established around 2004, but was discontinued three or four years ago due to a lack of manpower. Sewell added the officers in the bike unit interact with the public about twice as often as their counterparts in patrol cars, resulting in better rapport between the police and residents of Powder Springs.
POWDER SPRINGS — Stealthy. Healthy. Approachable.
These are just some of the words officials used to describe the Powder Springs Police Department’s bike unit, which is back on patrol after a short hiatus.
Powder Springs Mayor Pat Vaughn said she’s glad the bike unit is returning.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea, and I think it makes people feel a great deal safer to know that an officer could be riding by at any time,” Vaughn said.
Police Chief Charlie Sewell said the bike unit was first established around 2004, but was discontinued three or four years ago due to a lack of manpower. The city tried to bring the unit back last year but ran into the same problem.
“We actually started this unit back up in 2013, and then again, because of manpower shortages, it kind of became stagnant. Now that we’re approaching … our maximum manpower, we feel like we have the opportunity from time to time to put people on the bicycle,” he said.
Sewell said when two new hires come on board, the department will be fully staffed at 33 officers.
Sewell said the officers in the bike unit interact with the public about twice as often as their counterparts in patrol cars, resulting in better rapport between the police and residents of Powder Springs.
“Officers are more approachable (on the bikes). And we truly enjoy having a relationship with our citizens,” he said. “We understand that a lot of times the citizens are a little standoffish toward police officers. But when you can have a conversation … they get to know the officer and realize that he’s just like them — he just has a different job. Then, they tend to open up and will tell the officer things.”
“Bikes are less threatening than patrol vehicles,” he added. “Sometimes the novelty of a police officer on a bike is enough … for people to overcome their negative perceptions of the police.”
Sewell described how the bike unit, made up of four bikes, operates.
“It’s a voluntary thing. The officers volunteer for it, and they are assigned by their supervisor when there’s manpower. This is not a full-time unit. The officers still have to do regular patrol. When there’s adequate manpower, the supervisor will assign them to the bicycle, let them change into the bike uniform and patrol.”
Sewell said benefits of the bikes are that they are good for the environment and improve the health of the officers.
He also cited another benefit: stealth.
“Lawbreakers don’t really like the bicycles because they’re not looking for bicycles; they’re concerned about the marked vehicles, the patrol cars,” he said.
Mayor Vaughn concurred.
“It’s a very stealthy thing,” she said. “Sometimes you’re in an area that a patrol car can’t get in and won’t be pulling up. So an officer can be there observing, and you’re not … aware he’s there observing.”
Sewell said the bike unit is especially useful when they need to patrol an area where space is tight, such as downtown Powder Springs during July 4th, or on the city’s hiking trails.
“We have several miles of trails — city trails — that connect with the Silver Comet Trail, and the easiest way for us to patrol those trails is by bicycle,” he said.
A Dallas woman was found badly beaten on the Silver Comet Trail in Paulding County on Tuesday, but Mayor Vaughn said the return of the bike unit is unrelated.
“Bringing back the bike unit has been in the works for quite a while,” she said.
Still, in light of the attack, Vaughn said she is glad the unit is back patrolling the trails, as residents were typically glad to see them, as the police’s presence there gave citizens peace of mind.
“We always had a great deal of pleasant feedback when we did have the bike patrol. The citizens were always, always very happy to see them on the trails,” she said.
The Cobb Police Department also has a bike unit, according to Sgt. Dana Pierce, spokesperson for Cobb Police. Called the Rangers Unit, the group uses 14 bikes, 2 all-terrain vehicles, 2 dirt bikes and 2 golf carts to patrol parks and the parts of the Silver Comet Trail in unincorporated Cobb County, he said. The Rangers Unit is comprised of 5 officers and 2 supervisors and was established in 2000.