Bike 54, where are you?

June 12, 1992

With the return of warm weather, bicyclists have been dusting off their two-wheelers and taking them out on the road. Not everyone these days is a recreational rider, however. Some of the cyclists out there are wearing badges and packing pistols, as police in a few local jurisdictions are increasingly turning to bikes as an alternative to patrolling on foot.

During the past year, the idea has rolled up a good deal of momentum among metropolitan police departments. Baltimore County and Bel Air police initiated mountain-bike patrol teams last summer. Anne Arundel County police recently brought out a similar unit. A Towson precinct captain awaits official approval of his plan for a new two-bike, warm-weather patrol unit that could begin operating next month. And at least one Baltimore City police district is said to be considering starting its own bike patrol.

The existing local bike units, in which police are equipped with handguns and communication radios, have helped deter vandalism and drug crimes in specific areas, including the business section of U.S. 1 in Bel Air, the northern part of the B&A Trail in Anne Arundel and a western Baltimore County apartment complex. Police officials say a bike is more stealthy than a big cruiser, and provides more speed and agility than an officer on foot.

As they coast through communities, the bicycle units also have made the police seem more human. Kids are drawn like magnets to the bikes. Adults too have found the officers in short pants and safety helmets more approachable than their car-bound counterparts. The police themselves should benefit from occasionally leaving their computerized, air-conditioned cruisers for a mode of transportation that brings them closer to the public.

Other benefits from the bike patrols are obvious. The bicycles don't pollute. They are easy and inexpensive to maintain. And at roughly $400 apiece, they're a lot cheaper than the average police car. In Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, local businesses and private individuals have paid for the bikes. Capt. Roger Sheets of the Towson precinct says the managers of Towson Town Center have pledged to cover the cost of the two mountain bikes for his unit. Neither tax dollars nor new personnel have been needed for any of the units, except for the federally funded Bel Air program.

Advocates of the bike patrols stress they are in no way intended to replace or supplement police cars. But, as an alternative to the old-fashioned foot patrol, putting officers on bikes seems a good idea that's ready to shift into a higher gear.

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