Bicycle-patrol benefits & start-up considerations
By Tom Jenkins
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The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) realized in the early 1990s that its traditional policing was not working as effectively as it should. Increased traffic congestion on the Las Vegas Strip made getting from call-to-call in a timely manner almost impossible. More and more tourists walked the Strip, and droves of young people and minors cruised the Strip, loitered, caused disturbances, etc. Vehicle and pedestrian congestion had rendered traditional motorized patrol vehicles virtually useless, and foot-patrol officers just had too much area to cover. So, thanks to some innovative thinking, the LVMPD created bike-patrol squads, and the agency never looked back.
A successful bicycle patrol team can improve public safety and support other units by maintaining high visibility and mobility with close citizen contact in areas unsuitable for conventional patrol vehicles due to traffic congestion, pedestrian congestion, etc. And, any bike-patrol unit can expand the relationship between residents, tourists and employees by improving communication and interaction through leadership, education and training.
Is a bike unit right for your agency? If so, what do you need to start one?
The Sky's the Limit
Every police department thinking about starting up a bike-patrol division must assess its specific patrol needs, and then compare those needs to the various types of enforcement you can perform on a bike. Bike-based enforcement can include:
- Gaining intelligence to area-specific problems;
- Vehicle stops;
- Pedestrian stops;
- DUI enforcement;
- Narcotics suppression;
- Special events; and
- Routine calls for service.
Other possibilities might include plainclothes operations and community-oriented policing projects. The use of police bicycles is limited only to the creativity and imagination of a police department.
What Do You Need?
Bikes & Equipment
The LVMPD's experience indicates the 21-speed mountain bike works best for police officers on patrol because it allows officers to move quickly and with little planning. They can carry it over fences and other obstacles, ride it through mud and sand, use it as a defensive barrier and maneuver it quickly through congested areas.
I've tested several bikes over the years. In Las Vegas, we prefer the Cannondale 21-speed mountain bike. They're durable, cost effective and readily available to fit different-size officers. One advantage: An aluminum-frame bike (such as the Cannondale) seems to better absorb some of the shocks and vibration than steel-framed bikes. We used Diamondbacks with full suspension for a long time but did not like the ride on the pavement. If you have officers who are very tall, Giant Bicycles seems to produce the only bike we could find that accommodates officers 6'2" and taller. On average, one of our Cannondale bikes lasts approximately four years, and that includes use during the extreme summer heat and on stairs, walkways, railroad tracks, etc.
We equip each bike with a siren and custom red-and-blue flashing lights visible from the front and rear. Our bikes also feature a specially designed padded equipment bag the officers use to hold needed equipment.
The bikes are black to complement the black-and-white patrol vehicles, and are affixed with "Police" decals to identify them as official police vehicles. Sporting a color scheme that complements your patrol car design is not an absolute, but it's a nice touch and helps people identify the bike with your agency. Try not to mix different color bike frames — it tends to look amateurish. Use heavy-duty tires that feature an added level of Kevlar on the inside to prevent flats. Police bikes cover a lot of territory and enter a lot of alleys, and preventing flats will improve in-service time.
Important: Fit all officers to their bicycles to ensure they don't get injured in the event they slip off the pedals. Don't try a one-size-fits-all approach, because it will come back to haunt you in effectiveness, comfort and injuries.
Regular patrol duty gear works fine for officers who ride bikes. Bike-patrol officers should wear shoes appropriate for bike riding — ours are black, which helps keep them looking good after heavy use and is somewhat consistent with uniform shoes. The shoe should have a fairly firm sole due to the pressure riders put on the pedals. Generally, don't buy specialized bike shoes, because they aren't practical for the other duties officers must do. Other necessary items include a bike helmet (an absolute, and don't skimp on quality), cycling gloves, eye protection and a whistle.
We all understand the importance of projecting a professional image, and maintaining this professional image can prove challenging when selecting uniforms for a bike-patrol team. We considered several factors when developing our uniforms, including comfort, function, visibility and professionalism.
We considered comfort and function the most important factors due to the physical demands of the unit and the constant exposure to the elements. Because bike-patrol officers exercise in their uniforms, we chose a combination of bicycle and ski clothing materials. The bright-colored shirts and jackets the bike team wears make the officers highly visible and recognizable while riding their bikes, especially during nighttime. We went with black pants and shorts due to the dirt and grease that soils the uniforms. The uniform looks the same year-round, aside from the fact the officers wear long sleeves and pants during the winter months and short sleeves and shorts during the summer. Some departments may want to keep a consistent appearance among their uniform personnel. This is fine, but the material must be suitable for extensive physical activity.
Our bicycle patrol squad is based on a team concept. Each team member works with a partner and supports other team members at all times.
Bike patrol definitely requires multitasking. Having a partner makes it a little more doable, plus it provides tactical options. For instance, officers may want to conceal one team member to spot certain, hard-to-detect activity, and then direct the other officer to the suspect. Bottom line: Pairing bike-patrol officers may not be absolutely necessary, but it certainly improves the morale and effectiveness of the officers assigned to bike patrol.
Due to the strenuous duties associated with the bike unit, bike-patrol officers must maintain a training program that not only teaches riding skills but also reinforces officer safety. With proper training, two-person bike teams learn how to function smoothly as a team, each one knowing what the other is doing at all times. Top physical conditioning and a positive mental attitude play a major role in keeping officers alert to their surroundings while on patrol. Each of our officers must complete a 40-hour bike-patrol school to meet the minimum qualifications.
Bike-patrol officers function as their department's ambassadors. People will readily approach a uniformed officer on a bike when they would never consider walking up to a patrol car. Bike officers should capitalize on this both to garner information on crime and increase public confidence in the police department. The goodwill generated can easily sweep through the rest of the community. And, if your bike unit generates positive outcomes, publicize it; the positive publicity can offset any negative reports generated elsewhere in the police department.
The Curb Jump
The Power Slide
To execute a power slide, follow these steps:
Note: Trainees should begin at a slow pace, then increase speed as their confidence grows.
Tom Jenkins joined the LVMPD in 1993 and has approximately 8 years of bike-patrol experience. He currently is assigned to the department's south-central area command, which is responsible for the Las Vegas Strip.