An article on Baltimore County Police Department bicycle patrols in Friday's Evening Sun contained incorrect information about the Dempsey family in the Catonsville area who commented on the patrol. A son, Ryan, is 2, and a daughter, Jennifer, is 6. Their mother is Laurie Dempsey, 31.
The Evening Sun regrets the errors.
Paul Wieber and Patrick Miller donned their bicycle helmets and pedaled across a field, then down an alley in the Academy Heights neighborhood in western Baltimore County.
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
They're not teen-agers racing to the mall, or buddies out for exercise -- although they get plenty of it. No, they're on patrol.
They're cops on bikes.
"We don't have sirens," said Wieber.
"We have bells," said Miller.
Wieber and Miller aren't joking, either.
They're fully equipped Baltimore County patrol units, with police radios strapped to their sides and 9mm pistols holstered and at the ready.
The bike patrol began earlier this summer in the county as a six-month pilot program. If things work out, the patrols could continue and even increase from the current four-man squad.
With badge, gun and radio, Wieber and Miller look like any other county patrolmen -- except, of course, they're wearing shorts and tennis shoes.
"Foot patrol was the idea behind it," Miller said. "But we couldn't cover as much ground as we can on bikes."
And, said Miller, "there's a lot of areas we find that you couldn't get to on a motorcycle or in a car."
"We have the police radio," said Wieber. "We hear what is going on. We can respond to calls. We can back up calls."
And save gasoline, too.
The idea's not a new one. Police in Seattle have used bikes for specialized neighborhood patrols for years.
And, the Bel Air police department in Harford County began a four-officer bike patrol last week. Those officers patrol the commercial strip along U.S. 1 and at nearby shopping centers, said Deputy Chief John W. Harkins.
"The officers are very excited about it," said Harkins, because it puts them in closer contact with people.
"The public is becoming accustomed to faces, rather than just seeing a patrol car drive by," Harkins added.
In Baltimore County, as in Bel Air, the officers glide around on "mountain bikes," sturdy-framed bikes with straight handlebars
and thick, knobby tires.
Paul Wieber noted that some people have expressed surprise at the sight of police officers trucking quietly along on two wheels.
" 'Police on bikes?' they say," said Wieber. " 'What are you trying to do? Save gas?' " He laughed, then added, "but we are saving gas."
"They're rugged bikes," said Sgt. O. William Kahler, a COPE unit member in Baltimore County and also a sometimes-bike patrolman.
With 21 gears, the officers said, the bicycles can handle any terrain.
Of course, even a rugged mountain bike won't be able to catch a speeding car, the officers readily admit.
But that's not their purpose, either, they said.
"We really are a deterrent," Wieber said. "I'm sure we've deterred a lot of crimes."
Residents in Academy Heights seem to agree with that assessment.
"I think the bike patrols help a lot," said Susan Plitt, president of the Academy Heights Civic Association. "They're more visible and more accessible."
Kahler said the bike patrols have gone into six neighborhoods, each chosen because of some special crime problem.
In Academy Heights, Plitt said, there had been a wave of strong-arm robberies, where elderly residents were attacked as they got out of their cars.
"People were afraid to come out of their house," she said. But recently "people are coming out again. People are not as afraid."
Laurie Dempsey, too, said she thinks the bike patrols have helped deter crime in Academy Heights.
"I think it's great," she said from her front steps as she chatted with Wieber and Miller.
Her kids, Bryan, 2, Patrick, 4, and Laurie, 6, like the bikes, too.
They got to ring the bell.