At Utility Cycling.org, we view the idea of utility cycling as encompassing all kinds of cycling activities in which people are using bicycles to accomplish important tasks such as getting to work, delivering packages, selling things, catching bad guys, and saving lives. Wait what? Catching bad guys? Saving lives? By bicycle? And why not, what better way to use a bicycle? The bicycle is, after all, one of the most efficient human-powered machines, not to mention, it’s potential uses are quite diverse. So therefore, our next post is first in a 4-part series dedicated to the important utility of emergency and patrol services that are accomplished by bike. Note: header image from Colerain, OH Township Bike Patrol website.
History of Police Bicycle Officers
The notion of law enforcement has been around for thousands of years, and the role and duties of police officers vary through time and by country. Modern police officers are generally employed by the state to enforce laws and provide civil protection, and they are permitted to exercise the use of force in pursuit of law enforcement, protection, and security. Bicycle police officers are simply police officers who patrol by bicycle.
Photo from IPMBA
Police bicycle use has risen and fallen – to a large degree – in tandem with overall bicycle use in many Western nations. For the most part, bike patrols were intermittent throughout cities in the United States until only recently. Some places had more active bike patrols, while others had none at all. However, in 1991, the first Police on Bikes Conference was held, and the idea started to take hold in more and more cities throughout the country. The conference, which was mainly the brainchild of the League of American Bicyclists, provided a forum and common ground on which different agencies could establish standards, discuss training and equipment, and more. Today, police bicycle officers are a relatively common part of an urban environment.
Modern Police Bicycle Officers
Many of us – especially those of us who cycle often – are familiar with the BOP’s (aka bicycle cops or police officers on bike). The main concept behind police bicycles is to give police officers greater mobility and maneuverability in urban environments than they would otherwise have in a car or on foot. Most police bicycles are of the mountain bike variety, as this allows for off-road use or rallying down stairs or off curbs when necessary.
Bicycle officers are allowed to navigate all kinds of places from shopping malls to athletic arenas and many other places that the rest of us citizens are not permitting to ride in…and I have occasionally noted that they seem to be “permitted” to ride the wrong way down the road, on the sidewalk, etc., which infuriates me as it could give the incorrect impression of what one is legally able to do on a bicycle. Anyhow, enough ranting from me…the point is that bicycle officers are permitted more access to certain places on bicycles than the rest of us are, as they well should be. Erhm, but they should obey the law when not in pursuit of a criminal or something of that nature, in my opinion, so as not to give the incorrect impression of the laws to everyone else.
According to the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IMPBA), bicycles are the new wave in patrol and EMS services, because bikes “bridge the gap” between foot and car traffic. And I find it extremely fascinating that IPMBA also claims that bicycle officers are often cited by citizens as being more approachable than foot or car officers. Anyone have any thoughts as to why that might be when people on bicycle are, more often than not, viewed as being “the other”? Additionally, IPMBA also notes that bicycle officers are better able to utilize all of their senses and approach suspicious activities quietly and unnoticed in many cases. I would definitely agree that riding (and walking) give you a much greater sense of your surroundings than being in a car does, so naturally such activities are good for sniffing out bad guys.
In light of the recent debacle about the 93-page bicycle training manual produced by well-meaning, safety-conscious officers in the UK that received a great deal of criticism and mockery from the British press and on the Interwebs, I was curious to see what IPMBA had to say about training requirements for bicycle officers. IPMBA notes that:
While many officers and EMS providers know how to ride bikes, far fewer know how to cycle and survive in complex traffic. Unlike recreational cyclists who can choose routes that are convenient and safe, public safety cyclists have to ride where they are needed. That may mean they have to ride in extremely heavy traffic. Are the members of your bike unit skilled enough to do that now? Do they know where to ride on multi-lane or channelized roadways? Can they brake safely with maximum effectiveness and control? Can they perform emergency maneuvers if a car or object suddenly appears in their path? Police, EMS, and security cyclists need the skills to ascend and descend curbs, stairs, and other environmental obstacles. Police and security cyclists must know what tactics to use in a pursuit and how to dismount quickly but safely and perform an arrest or fire their sidearm. EMS cyclists must know how to cycle with a heavy load, select and pack medical equipment, and position a bike at a scene in such a way that it blocks curious onlookers yet does not hamper access to the medical equipment.
Indeed, I quite agree. Riding a bicycle in challenging circumstances and terrain is not necessarily something that comes “naturally” to everyone, though I certainly envy those for whom it does. I have spent many hours doing drills and training to improve my mountain bike skills, cornering skills for criteriums, and more, and I would argue that my time has been well-spent to prepare me for riding that is out-of-the-ordinary; in my case, a bike race. Police officers in general have special skills, so why shouldn’t bicycle officers have even more special skills and be prepared for riding in out-of-the-or
dinary circumstances? On the other hand, a manual teaching them how to turn (aka deploy into a junction) is a bit much and definitely funny. At the same time, not everyone can “deploy into a junction” going 30 miles per hour, but I would hope that a bicycle officer would be able to. Perhaps they should take a course from this fellow. Nonetheless, as this article from Bike Radar mentions, cycle training for all people who ride, not just bicycle officers, could definitely be beneficial, despite the fact that the basics are not so hard to learn.
Photo from IPMBA
What are your experiences with bicycle police officers or as a bicycle police officer? Do you think bicycle officer training is necessary?