Winning Words

by William Laramee, PCI #1000
Amherst Police Department (MA)

Police Cycling: Reflections, Analysis, and Change

As I was riding through Puffton Village Apartments on a cool, fall evening, my attention was drawn to the sound of an alarm from a nearby apartment.  Had I been in a cruiser with windows all but slightly ajar and radio on, I never would have heard it.  As I pedaled closer to the source of the noise, I noticed lights behind faded curtains. Sensing that something was not right, I cautiously approached the door and knocked. After several minutes, I was greeted by a frail, mentally handicapped teenage girl. The girl seemed frightened by my presence as she peered around the door im my direction. She spoke in a soft tone as she answered my questions. Inside the home, I observed trash piled from floor to ceiling, neglected animals, dirty clothes piled in the unused bathtub, and a smell so putrid that I struggled to maintain my composure.

I have been a police officer in Amherst, Massachusetts, since 1995. Amherst, a culturally and ethnically diverse community, is home to three institutions of higher learning: The University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, and Hampshire College. These three institutions add approximately 35,000 new faces to our community each fall. Amherst is comprised of a densely populated town center, numerous apartment complexes, and neighborhoods spanning out from the town center.

I was assigned to bicycle patrol in 1998. Because of my passion for the outdoors, commitment to fitness, and a belief in community policing, this was a wonderful personal and professional opportunity. As a bicycle officer, I made dozens of arrests, rode in inclement and exceptional weather, from cool spring mornings to warm rainy summer evenings. I also participated in community policing activities, maintained high visibility, and promoted the benefits of a bicycle unit to community members and department administrators. However, after seven years, I began to think that our unit was at a critical point in terms of its potential and contribution to the overall policing practices in Amherst. I also recognized that I wanted more training and opportunities to advance bicycle policing within the department. I felt our team needed more training, better equipment, and more organization. I also felt that the town would embrace our efforts.

In early 2006, while completing my annual personal and department evaluation, I recognized a deficiency in the organizational and fiscal operation of the department’s bicycle unit. Each year, the department sent officers for training at “COBWEB,” which was described as “a joke,” due it’s overemphasis on administrative duties and lack of essential bicycle patrol skills and leadership. Officers who expected to ride and repair bicycles in a class with law enforcement at its core found too much time with administration and not enough time actually riding.

Recognizing these deficiencies, I approached the department’s administrators with a plan to become an instructor. I believed it would be beneficial in three ways: I would receive professional training, which would enable me to train my colleagues, and the department would invest in a long term, cost-efficient program, ultimately saving money. After much deliberation, I was selected to become the third IPMBA Police Cyclist instructor in Massachusetts.

Geographically and socially, Amherst is an ideal place for a successful police cycling unit. Vehicle traffic is often congested and can be difficult to manuever through at any time of day. Our bike unit continues to demonstrate enhanced effectiveness as compared to patrol cars in this type of environment. The area is also a strong advocate for bicycle lanes, the use of bicycles for daily commuting to work, and bicycle safety education. Recently, our department received a grant through the Governor’s Highway Safety Bureau and received 50 bicycle helmets. Upon receiving the helmets, I was tasked with identifying target groups throughout the community that would benefit from getting the helmets. I arranged helmet distribution campaigns in low income housing projects where riding is popular among youth but safety is often overlooked. Officers also attended farmer’s markets and public safety fairs. The initiative provided a great opportunity for officers to interact with the community in an informal setting while also reinforcing bicycle safety.

Since I attended the IPMBA Police Cyclist training in the summer of 2006, our unit has already taken positive steps towards necessary change. We have partnered with the Hampshire Bicycle Exchange, which purchases, repairs, and offers for resale, old bicycles from our fleet. Additionally we have been working diligently at redesigning our unit’s storage and work space, transitioning into new, more technically advanced Mocean uniforms, and purchasing new bicycles. It is also our intent to train an officer to address all maintenance issues that may arise.

As I again reflect upon my experience in Puffton Village, I realize the importance of bicycle units in police departments and the communities they serve. They allow officers to see and hear things in cars that their brothers in cruisers may not. Bicycles tend to break down barriers normally associated with cruiser patrols, because they encourage conversation, and they are reflective of the agency’s belief in community-based initiatives, partnership building, and problem solving.

It is my hope that after receiving Instructor training, I will return to my department as an ambassador of IPMBA. I will be given the skills and knowledge to conduct cost-effective, safe, and beneficial training for all of my students. It is also my hope that upon receiving this scholarship I can return to my department a portion of the money they have chosen to invest in me and instead invest it where it would be best served, the unit and its officers.

Bill was awarded a $650 Mocean Grant as a result of this essay. He was certified as IPMBA Police Cyclist Instructor #1000 at the IPMBA Conference in Baton Rouge. 

2007 Mocean Grant for Public Safety Cycling Recipients
The Mocean Grants, earmarked for use at the IPMBA Conference, are designed to enable personnel from the winning departments to attend all or part of the conference. 

Congratulations to the following grant recipients: 

Colleges/Universities:  Officer Chris Bartolomei, New York State University Police, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York – $650

Law Enforcement:  Officer William Laramee, Town of Amherst Police, Amherst, Massachusetts – $650;  Corporal Nick Driscoll, Greenwood Police, Greenwood, Arkansas – $350;  Sergeant Jerry Bisek, City of Manassas Police, Manassas, Virginia – $350

Grant monies were available for IPMBA members representing police departments, EMS agencies, and college/university departments of public safety. 

Mocean president Bill Levitt stated, “Mocean began offering grants for the  IPMBA conference several years ago in response to the decrease in available funds for training.  We are proud to award these grants to the above recipients.  We were surprised, however, that more applications were not submitted and that we were not able to award all the grants available for each category.  I’d like to extend my congratulations to the winners, all of whom put a great deal of effort into their essays and will no doubt benefit from the training they will experience at the IPMBA Conference.”

IPMBA would like to thank Mocean for their generosity and their continued support of IPMBA and our members.  For more information about Mocean uniforms, please visit http://www.mocean.net or email Bill Levitt at moceanbl@aol.com

(c) 2007 IPMBA.  This article appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of IPMBA News.

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