By Jim Herr, June 5, 2017, Cheektowaga Chronicle
Photo: The Cheektowaga Bike Patrol Unit trains with WNYMBA on May 31, 2017. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
GLENWOOD, N.Y. – The Cheektowaga Police Bike Patrol Unit is gearing up their training in preparation for their summer patrols ahead by getting off the asphalt and cycling into the woods.
Some of their training – the most intense in my opinion – was conducted recently with the assistance of volunteers from the Western New York Mountain Bicycling Association.
As the month of May came to a close, WNYMBA volunteers took some of the officers out onto the hand groomed mountain bike trails of Sprague Brook Park in Southern Erie County. The last of two sessions were held on May 31st.
The Commander of the Unit, Lieutenant Brian Gould, invited me to join the unit for the day to document the day to give our community an inside look at the bike unit.
“It’s something different. You can only ride around cones in a parking lot so much. It builds confidence and gives the officers the confidence to tackle some of the more challenging things that they have to see sometimes on the bikes in town,” said Lt. Gould.
Hitting the trails
Around 9 a.m., we all assembled at a camping site deep inside the county park. After a quick briefing from Lt. Gould and our guides, Jim Allen, John Kress & Jerry Barbour, we were off to begin what would become about an eight-mile journey through the woods.
The first few minutes out on the trail we encountered washboard tree roots, some small rocks and a makeshift narrow bridge that allowed us to get over a small bog. As we traveled further on down the trail the simplistic turned a bit challenging.
A majority of the dirt trail turned into a muddy, greasy obstacle course because of recent rains. You want to go straight but the backend of your bike slides forcefully to the left or right if you don’t hit the mud at the right angle. The bike’s front tire splatters mud specs onto your face while the back tire sprinkles your back. The alternative is to go off the trail through some underbrush – but where’s the fun in that?
After a quick briefing about the upcoming obstacles, the unit hit them head-on. The first was a fallen tree the size of a pickup truck tire. Here WNYMBA constructed a natural ramp out of smaller logs. The key is to get enough speed to pop over the tree while not tailgating the person in front of you. I walked my bike over the tree on the advice of Mr. Kress.
Soon after that we were dipping into and out of a few ditches and fording through small streams – a preview of what was to come.
“They’ll never see any conditions like this and all of them did well, very well, especially considering the bikes they’re on. They have decent bikes, but they’re not what today’s standard is I guess. They did well,” said guide John Kress.
“I think the biggest part is the confidence building. You can get over the trees that are down. You can drive through the creek. Maybe not stuff that we’ll see in Cheektowaga, but when you’re spending five, six, seven hours on a bike and you’re maybe cutting through woods and stuff like that – we do have Stiglmeier Park – you want to have the confidence to drive over some of that stuff,” added Lt. Gould.
Why does Cheektowaga have a Bike Patrol Unit
The Bike Patrol Unit is made up of 26 officers spread across the department’s three patrol shifts – days, afternoons, and nights. The bikes are a valuable tool in the department’s crime-fighting arsenal because a patrol car can’t drive on the park’s bike trails and the bikes have a huge stealth aspect to them.
“It’s easier to roll up on somebody who is doing something illegal when you’re on a bike because they don’t see the cop car coming,” added Lt. Gould.
The bulk of the unit’s funding comes from federal community block grants. The majority of the patrols occur in neighborhoods designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Funding for patrols in non-designated neighborhoods and at community events come out of the department’s general fund.
“A majority of that is around the Town Park area, a little bit of Ceadergrove and then a couple of other small areas in town. But, we can be anywhere it just depends on manpower. If we have some extra guys we like to get the bikes out,” said Lt. Gould.
The bikes are a huge tool in interacting with the community.
“That’s where we get the most advantage out of it – the community relations – the approachableness of the officers while they’re on a bike as opposed to driving by in a police car. Everybody wants to stop and talk to the officers on the bike.”
Erie County Central Police Services offers a 40-hour course at the University at Buffalo. The officers learn basic bike handling skills to negotiating urban obstacles, perform high-speed dismounts, and learn suspect apprehension techniques and go through live fire exercises.
Teaming up with WNYMBA
Lt. Gould approached the Western New York Mountain Bike Association a few years ago to help build comradery within the unit and gain additional skills and the confidence to handle any situation.
“One of the other things you learn while you do this kind of stuff is to anticipate the gear you need before you need it so that if you get into a situation where you have to go over the log, if you’re in too high of a gear or in the wrong gear, it’s hard to get over it. If they have to ride down through a ditch in a park they know how to balance and know what gear to be in,” said James Allen, Past President of WNYMBA.
“This is a challenging place to ride but with all the grease and sloppiness in it, it was a real challenging ride even for us who have done this once or twice before,” said Mr. Kress.
“We try to get the guys laughing and chuckling at each other – and you heard them out there – they were having a grand old time. It was fun. Their work is stressful enough. It’s good to add a little fun in.”
This was seen while everyone forded a creek towards the end of our ride. After falling into the creek because my legs turned to jelly – I was able to shoot cell phone video while the rest of the unit came across.
The guys from WNYMBA taught experienced officers new techniques to avoid obstacles and how to keep their stamina up while serving and protecting Cheektowaga. Heck, they even turned me on to a new hobby.
At the end of the ride, we stopped for a group picture, handshakes of appreciation all around and a huge thank you to WNYMBA for helping.
“They’re coming out on their own time. They built these trails out here, they’re really dedicated and they’re really into helping us out, which we certainly appreciate,” said Lt. Gould.
And if you see the guys patrolling out on their bike, Lt Gould says…
“Just stop and talk with us. We enjoy interacting with the public.”