Tech Wednesday: Bike Cop on a Cop Bike

by United Bicycle Institute, February 2014

Those of us who use a bike just for leisure sometimes forget that a bike can also be a useful tool. We were recently reminded of this when Officer Adam Ferguson of the Kent, WA police department took our Introduction to Bicycle Maintenance course. His goal was to better handle his department’s fleet maintenance needs. Between class sessions on how to adjust derailleurs and true wheels, we had a chance to ask him a few a questions about what it’s like being a bike cop and how the bike adds utility to his job. UBI’s Craig DeAmbrose processed the suspect, took the mug shots, and conducted the interrogation.

UBI: For your job as a police officer, what are the benefits of being on a bike?

Officer Ferguson: The ability to get around in the crowded areas is incredible. We can often times respond in the downtown area faster than patrol cars can. We’re also quiet and can view crimes you would never see in a car.

UBI: How many bikes are there in the Kent Police Department fleet?

OF: We keep a bike for each person in the unit and we have two extras for CDU members. (CDU is a special unit for civil disturbances.) We have enough bikes to accommodate 8 officers.

UBI: How many bicycle officers?

OF: We are currently working with 4 officers and 1 sergeant. In April we are upping our team to 8 officers with 1 full time sergeant.

UBI: If you are assigned to bicycle patrol, is that all you do? Or do you split your time between other duties?

OF: We cover both bike duties and the marine patrol in the summer time. We have also been assigned to our CDU team.

UBI: How many hours on the bike for a typical shift/patrol?

OF: A typical bike shift for us is 10 hours. Actual riding time is probably half. The other 5 hours go to follow ups and writing reports.

UBI: What kind of special training is involved?

OF: All bike officers attend an IPMBA (International Police Mountain Bike Association) training that is specific to bikes. This is usually 1 week long.

UBI: What are the challenges with fleet maintenance?

OF: Time!!! Right now I am trying to take care of the fleet while keeping up with special duties and patrol.

UBI: Do officers generally like being assigned to bike duty?

OF: Some officers still prefer a car. The position for bike officer is a specialty position and officers have to apply and test to get on the team.

UBI: For patrolling by bike how does your uniform change? Any cycling specific clothing?

OF: We wear a brighter blue uniform to identify us better. We also have additional reflective items for road safety. The ballistic vest we wear is also an outer carrier. It has the same stopping power as normal vest but the outer carrier allows us to put a lot of the gear we usually wear on our belts and move it to our vest carriers. This eliminates a lot of the pinching at our waist.

UBI: What’s the weight of the bike with all normal gear attached?

OF: The bikes we have start at 26 pounds; we add about 15 pounds for bike bag and contents. Our vest runs an additional 15-18 pounds. Our batons are about 2-3 pounds, bringing a total to about 58-60 pounds.

UBI: What kind of duty/patrol does a bicycle officer typically do? Crowd control? Neighborhood patrol?

OF: We are mainly assigned to the downtown area. We usually focus on crowded areas like parks or the library. We are assigned to any functions like street parades, or public events. We can maneuver through the crowds easily and, when needed, we can use our bikes as a barricade pushing unruly crowds back.

UBI: Does the public respond to you differently on your bike as opposed to being in a car?

OF: Absolutely. I think we are more approachable and visible. I feel like the public likes seeing us in their area. Besides, we don’t usually give speeding tickets!

UBI: How do the seasons affect you? Is the unit less active in winter?

OF: We usually take advantage of winter as a time to overhaul the bikes and get ready for the next summer. We still patrol in the rain, but if it’s icy or snowy we have the option of jumping in a vehicle.

UBI: Anything else you think we should know?

OF: I think it’s important to note that bikes allow a more versatile use of our resources. Our department has talked about cross training our entire CDU team in bikes. They have seen countless CDU callouts like the Seahawks parade, where the regular CDU team members get posted to specific areas but the bike guys get assigned to escorting the parade. When you’re on a bike you can be a more effective officer during the events.

Another benefit of Officer Ferguson’s visit was the chance get up close and personal with his bike and some of the gear he carries. If you’ve ever seen a police bike, you’ve probably noticed that they’re not usually just a standard mountain bike with a sticker on it that says “Police”.

The bikes used by many law enforcement agencies are typically mountain bikes that are purpose-built for use by police. The bikes that the Kent Bicycle Police Unit use are no exception. They use a stock Kona Kahuna Deluxe 29er as the base for their patrol bike and change up a few things to make it ready for duty:

*Stock knobby tires get replaced with high volume slicks. High volume slicks are better suited for the urban areas they patrol in and offer a good mix of traction and smooth rolling.

* A rear rack is installed to carry various gear. It has such a wide stance that it also ends up protecting the rear derailleur and rear disc brake as well. This secondary function of the rack is particularly important because officers often have to “dump” the bike while in pursuit of a suspect. As you can imagine, dumping the bike at high speed can be pretty hard on exposed parts like the disc caliper or rear derailleur.

*A fork steer tube extender with a high rise stem is added for rider comfort and better visibility. To those of you who might be turning your nose up at the extender and upright stem, consider the 18lbs of bullet proof vest and gear an officer has to wear for a 10 hour patrol. If you had to do the same, you’d probably find yourself wanting the same set up. Occasionally officers will have to wear a secondary vest if a suspect is armed with a high-powered rifle. The second vest adds another 15 pounds and protects against higher velocity rifle rounds.

*Just like its four-wheeled, internal combustion counterpart, Kent police bikes get a full siren and light set up. The siren is mounted on the front with some flashers and some LED strips mounted to the rack on the rear. Everything is activated by a handlebar mounted control box.

If you’re interested in learning more about bicycle mounted police you can go to http://www.ipmba.org which is the home page for the International Police Mountain Bike Association. There’s lots of great info, including a history of bikes used in police forces stretching back to the 19th century.

Read the original blog post:  http://www.bikeschool.com/blog/?p=2615

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