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The benefits of bicycles for police patrols go on and on, according to police administrators here and representatives of two national law enforcement bicycle associations.
The Columbus Police Department has revitalized and expanded its bicycle patrols program, sending nine officers out on two wheels through downtown Columbus and the city’s east side.
Factbox: Bike patrol officers
Lt. Alan Trisler
Authorities say the advantages of putting officers on bikes range from increased maneuverability in alleys, parking garages and large crowds to making the officers more approachable.
Authorities also plan to take advantage of the bicycles’ speed and silence for extra patrols in crime-prone neighborhoods in hopes of sneaking up on suspects and catching criminals in the act.
“I think the biggest thing is approachability and the surprise attack,” said Patrolman Troy Love, a veteran bicycle patrol officer. “The bonus is, it gets you in shape.”
The number of police departments deploying officers on bikes has dropped over the years, statistics show, but anecdotal evidence points to a recent resurgence of pedal patrols.
About 32 percent of the nation’s more than 12,600 local police departments use bicycles, said Maureen Becker, executive director of the International Police Mountain Bike Association based in Baltimore.
She said statistics from 2007 collected by the U.S. Department of Justice show the percentage had dropped from 45 percent of departments — more than 5,600 — that were using bicycles as of June 2003.
Most departments serving 500,000 people or more operate bicycle patrols. The drop mostly occurred among police departments serving smaller municipalities, Becker said.
But more police departments are seeking bicycle training, a result of hard financial times and a return to emphasizing community policing, said Shawn Berry, an executive board member of the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association based in Clermont, Fla.
“We have seen an increase over the last 14 months,” Barry said. “Bicycle patrols were big years ago. We’ve seen when it’s come and gone, and it’s back again.”
Bicycles are used by about 58 percent of police departments that serve populations between 25,000 and 49,000 — which includes Columbus — with about eight bikes for every 100 officers, according to the justice department’s statistics.
The Columbus Police Department has nine bicycle patrol officers among its 76 officers. Five of the officers are new to bike patrolling this year.
Police here began patrolling on bikes in the early 1990s to improve community relations.
But the program fell mostly dormant over the past five years, said Lt. Matt Myers, spokesman for Columbus Police Department.
Chief Jason Maddix said he had brought back the bikes for a variety of reasons, citing reduced fuel costs and environmental impact and the benefits to officers’ physical health.
He said he also believed bicycles are well-suited for patrolling downtown Columbus when it is densely populated during the day.
Officers will patrol on bike when the weather is nice and staffing levels allow for putting extra officers on the road. They also will be used for additional neighborhood patrols and during community events.
Officers wear less-restrictive uniforms when patrolling on bike but still carry their radios, protective vests and gun belts.
If bicycle officers make an arrest, they call for a patrol car to transport the suspect to jail.
Police bicycles have the rugged build of mountain bikes. The tires and gearing can handle rough terrain but also allow for fast travel on pavement, said Andrew Rosch, a marketing communications assistant for Trek Bicycle, which manufactures police bikes.
Love said the bicycle’s speed came in handy about five years ago when he chased down a suspect who had run from an Indiana State Police trooper at a traffic stop on Second Street.
The man got ahead of the trooper, but Love said he was able to catch up to him on his bike.
“I thought if I didn’t have this bike, I wouldn’t have caught the guy,” Love said.
He said he enjoyed the freedom of patrolling on bike, the increased interaction with the community, the health benefits and the comfortable uniform.
“I told them if I could ride my bike every day, I’d give them back my car,” Love said.
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