Most people who bike up and down the B & A Trail are out for a little sunshine and exercise. Stephen Atkinson is doing his job.
Last month, he and two other county police officers were assigned to a new bike patrol on the northern part of the trail, from Dorsey Road to Route 100, near Marley Station mall.
The patrols, begun by county police after a discussion with the Northern District Police Community Relations Committee, seek to deter crime at one of the hottest recreational spots in the county.
Park rangers say more than 500,000 people use the trail yearly. No serious crimes have been reported, but vandalism and loitering incidents have been numerous, especially among teen-agers who tend to congregate at night near the malls in Glen Burnie that abut the trail, police and rangers say.
"The feedback from the people on the trail has been positive," Atkinson said. "This combines the accessibility of being on foot with the mobility of being in a car."
The Schwinn Montague 18-speed trail bike that Atkinson rides costs $570 at Pete's Cycle Co. in Severna Park, and was purchased by Judy and James Roberson of Brooklyn Park.
Judy Roberson, vice president of the community relations committee, said she and her husband "thought it was a really good project. It gets our police officers closer to the citizens. I think it is a great investment."
Since the program started in April, inclement weather has made the patrols sporadic. Once the program gets up to speed, officers will patrol daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. One officer will ride the bike each shift, patrolling the northern 3.5 miles of the 14-mile trail that links Glen Burnie to Annapolis.
The bike allows officers to combat loitering, drinking and acts of vandalism along the trail. The program, called BAT II, for B & A Trail patrol, could be augmented with additional patrols, said Sgt. Hylton Hodges of the Northern District.
The program is an offshoot of the original BAT, or Beat officers Against drug Traffickers, which has been used to combat the drug trade in Freetown Village.
Atkinson, who has worked three years in the county and 10 years in Baltimore's Southern District, said the bike patrols have been a success. Not only has he broken up parties and after-dark gatherings on the trail, he has responded to service calls in downtown Glen Burnie.
"For non-emergency-type calls, the response time is the same whether you are in a car or on a bike," he said. "I've been everywhere."
Most of the problems on the trail occur at the northern end, mainly because of the malls and nearby urban areas. Although the trail is officially closed at dusk, there is no way to prevent access.
Park Superintendent Dave Dionne said his officers also patrol the park with bikes, but the county police presence will heighten security.
"The biggest problem is kids loitering after dark," he said. "That's one of the things this program is designed to combat."