Local police departments in the state of New York are turning to bicycle patrols to give officers more direct access to the community they serve as they ride throughout the town.
The trend began in the village of Goshen 30 years ago after resident Brian Dunlevy, an owner of a bicycle shop, donated some bikes to the police department.
Since then, officers from the department ride throughout the town on 8-hour patrol shifts while interacting with the community. According to Goshen Chief Jim Watt, officers regularly bike 40-50 miles per shift.
Watt said that bike patrols offer many benefits for officers. Primarily, being on a bike allows officers to get a closer view of life in the neighborhood – people can simply walk up to an officer and chat or say hello.
Bicycles also allow officers to maneuver in places that are too narrow for their cruisers or SUVs, such as trails, alleyways and parks. It’s also environmentally friendly and good exercise, Watt added.
After Goshen implemented bicycle patrols, other local departments like the Saugerties Police Department decided to imitate them.
Saugerties town police detective Erik Thiele said that bike patrols give officers more sensory information than they would have while in a car. “You’re using all of your senses when you’re on a bike,” he said, noting that officers can smell, hear, and feel everything around them while on a bike.
“It feels better to not be stuck behind a steering wheel and actually be on a bike doing something,” Saugerties detective Pat Hastings interjected as he stood beside his Cannondale mountain bicycle.
Hastings decided to get certified for bicycle patrol for the change of scenery and to stay in shape, he said.
Police officers who want to do bike patrols are required to undergo a five day, 40-hour certification course to that teaches officers how to maintain and repair their bikes, ride slowly while in tight quarters, use a weapon while on bike patrol, and how to navigate stairs and make arrests.
Thiele, who provides the training as a certified instructor, said that while bicycle patrol history dates back to the 1700s, modern police bicycle patrols were started by two police officers and avid bicyclists in Seattle in the 1990s.
He also said that officers on a bike cannot transport someone they arrest, although they can do other everyday duties such as issuing tickets and responding to active scenes.
Saugerties police currently has 10 officers who are voluntarily certified for bicycle patrol. The officers share four Cannondale bikes for cost efficiency – two are large bikes and two are smaller bikes.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Goshen also use Cannondales, which cost about $1,400 if new, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Samantha Pascal. Some towns are even looking into using electric-assisted bikes, although Thiele joked that it would be “cheating.”
However, bicycle patrols are not always the most convenient method of patrolling for modern police departments.
Town of New Paltz police Chief Rob Lucchesi said that his department scaled back such patrols a decade ago due to a lack of certified officers and limited patrol manpower.
Some departments only utilize bicycle patrols once or twice a month now due to the lack of manpower and the fact that bikes are much slower and cover a much smaller territory that vehicles.