VOL. 111 | NO. 109 | Friday, June 13, 1997
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Police department bicycle patrol units give officers accessibility squad cars lack
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
If youve noticed more bicycle patrolmen in the Midtown area, it isnt because the Beale Street squad is pedaling further.
This spring, a newly formed bicycle patrol unit from the West Precinct on Union Avenue hit the streets.
The officers now routinely zig and zag through parking garages in the Medical Center and down alleys in neighborhoods such as Central Gardens and Evergreen.
Maj. Chuck Bryant, executive officer of the West Precinct, said it is hard to measure the success of the unit, but their accessibility alone gives them an edge squad cars lack.
"These guys can weave and snake their way through areas a patrol car couldnt reach," he said of the 10 bicycle patrol officers.
"Theyre not limited in what they can do, just because theyre on bikes".
Bryant said in addition to patrolling, the bicycle squads work special events, such as concerts and Memphis in May.
Bryant said the bicycle officers have been instrumental in apprehending drug dealers, who keep a lookout for squad cars.
He said recently drug dealers fled from officers in a patrol car and ran down an alley right into bicycle officers who were waiting to head them off. The bicycle officers made the arrest, and the squad car transported the suspects Downtown.
Yogi Adams, a bicycle patrol officer who has been with the police department 10 years, said he loves his new duties.
"Interacting with people is the best part," he said. Adams said people seem to approach him more readily on the bicycle.
Bryant attributes this to the uniforms, which are more casual and less formal than an officer in a patrol car wears.
But outfitting a new squad is costly, Bryant said. The bikes cost $800 each, and the uniforms about $400. Each officer is assigned two yellow shirts, three pairs of shorts with padded seats, a pair of long pants and an all-weather jacket.
Funds for the six bikes and the uniforms were donated by the Assisi Foundation, Bryant said.
Heavy rain and other inclement weather put the bicycle officers back into cars. Their cars are outfitted with bicycle racks, so if the weather clears, they can take to the streets again.
Although bicycling officers are new to the West Precinct, the Beale Street Precinct has used them for several years, said Inspector A.J. Torrance.
Of the 70 officers at that precinct, 20 of them are bicycle patrol officers. Torrance said that this method of policing is particularly effective when there is a dense population, like that common to Beale Street and other Downtown spots.
"In the Downtown area, the bikes are a lot more productive than patrol cars," Torrance said.
Torrance said she believes more law enforcement agencies will use bicycle police units because it is good for the community and the cardiovascular benefits to the officers help keep the police force healthier. Police officers have a high incidence of cardiac arrest, because of the sudden, drastic influxes of stress during the course of their duties.
"Its more than just better service to the community, its better service to the police officers, too, and their families," Torrance said.
Another officer who realizes the overall benefit of the bicycle patrol is Dena Hendren, coordinator and instructor of the bicycle patrol units for the Memphis Police Department.
Hendren has trained officers for bicycle patrol units from Nashville, Knoxville, Columbia and Union City, as well as campus and airport police.
Hendren said in order to certify for bicycle patrol, officers must complete a week-long training session covering a variety of skills.
"We teach policeman how to be policeman on bicycles," she said.
Some of the skills covered in the training include dismounting, approaching suspects on bikes, how to ride down stairs, how to ride through crowds and firearms training.
Assessment of officers physical endurance requires a 20-mile ride. Hendren said the officers are usually given two hours to complete the trek.
"Its a difficult ride, even when you are in shape. I do it because I want people to understand how much it takes out of you riding in the heat," she said.
Hendren said on average days the officers ride between five and 15 miles per day.
Hendren said one of the great benefits of bicycle patrols to her is having people more at ease with police officers.
"To me, it brings police officers back to the streets, without making it a walking beat because bikes are more accessible and maneuverable. They can get around a lot easier than if they were on foot," she said.