By Vicki Gerdes, Detroit Lakes Online, Sep 3, 2017 at 10:15 a.m.
Detroit Lakes MN: Though bicycle riders are a pretty common sight on Detroit Lakes city streets during the summer months, local residents may have noticed something a little unusual about some of these bikers in recent weeks: Namely, that they were wearing Detroit Lakes Police Department uniforms.
This past spring, the police department applied for, and subsequently received, a $2,500 grant from the PartnerSHIP 4 Health Community Health Board for the purchase of two bicycles and related safety equipment. (A $300 local match was required as part of the grant.)
The bicycles and safety equipment were subsequently purchased from the DL Bike Shop in order to establish a Police Bicycle Patrol in Detroit Lakes this summer.
"Utilizing bikes provides us the opportunity to be visible and approachable during special events and in problems such as nighttime vehicle break-ins, drinking in prohibited areas, and drug use," explained Police Chief Steven Todd in a report to the Detroit Lakes City Council prior to the council's approval of the purchase.
The total cost of the purchase was approximately $3,000, Todd says. Once the bikes and equipment had been delivered, officers Randy Haken, Wayne Streibel and Doug Vickmark stepped up and made the trip to North Dakota State University in Fargo to receive the necessary training for using the bikes on duty.
"Standard law enforcement protocol is that officers must be trained at a bike patrol school prior to using them on patrol," Todd explained. "Plus our city's insurer, the League of Minnesota Cities, also felt strongly this training should happen before the bikes were utilized."
Todd says that the training allows the officers to more fully utilize all of the bicycles' capabilities, as well as showing them how to follow all proper safety procedures, thereby decreasing their risk of injury.
"So far, we've only had the bikes in limited usage," says Todd, explaining that he "won't let the bikes out on patrol unless we have at least two other officers out there in squad cars."
The reason for this, Todd says, is that he doesn't want the Bike Patrol officers responding to "high risk" calls such as domestic violence, narcotics busts or incidents involving guns.
"Right now, I have two officers out on medical leave, which means we're currently in the midst of a staffing shortage," he added. "That cuts down on the availability of our officers for bike patrol. We've probably only had about 10 shifts worked on bikes so far."
However, he added, he was able to use a bike patrol officer during the recent Ojibwe Forests Rally event in Detroit Lakes, "and it worked really well. The officer was able to maneuver pretty easily through some areas that were closed to (motorized) traffic. I was pleased with that."
Todd says that he hopes to be able to deploy the bikes in situations where officers would be unable to easily access a crime or accident scene in a motorized vehicle.
He also shared an incident where one of the bike patrol officers had approached some suspects who had been sitting in their car, openly smoking marijuana, "and they never saw him coming."
"My ultimate goal with these bikes, once we have adequate staffing, is to use them on regular patrol as well as during special events like the water carnival, car shows, and July 4 holiday," said Todd. "I believe it will increase our visibility and approachability with the public... and I think it's healthy for the officers too. It should help them with their cardiovascular capabilities, which I think is part of the goals of PartnerSHIP 4 Health as well."
He says he also intends, in the near future, to purchase some hitches for installation on a couple of squad cars so that a bike rack can be mounted on them for transportation purposes. Todd says that he is a big fan of the sport of bicycling, and has spent some time out on the mountain biking trails at Detroit Mountain and surrounding areas with his two sons.
"This city is just perfect for biking," he added.