County police study bicycle patrols Bikes improve access, mobility

June 06, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

Howard County police may employ a new tool in crime-fighting next year -- bicycles.

Police Chief James N. Robey is reviewing two studies on bike patrols to learn whether his department could benefit from them.

If the program is approved, the earliest a pilot program could start here would be next spring after the current academy class graduates, the chief said. "I think it has merits," he said.

"It's a very good tool to be used in community-oriented policing," said Cpl. Kevin Costello, who researched the idea. "It gets an officer out of his 3,000-pound cruiser and puts him in touch with the community."

Corporal Costello talked to officials at eight U.S. police departments, including those in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Rockville and the U.S. Capitol Police in Washington, during his five-month study.

If the public reacts favorably and the program is adopted, the county will join police departments in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and Bel Air, which have similar programs.

"An officer on a bicycle draws a lot of children who want to learn what's going on," said Lt. Alvin J. T. Zumbrun, Corporal Costello's supervisor.

According to Corporal Costello, bicycle patrol officers would ride a mountain or a hybrid bicycle in moderate temperatures, wearing helmets, biker shorts and black tennis shoes. They would carry their 9mm service handguns strapped to their biker shorts, and wear bulletproof vests.

Corporal Costello said it would cost about $1,000 to outfit each officer. He said he hopes that community groups and businesses will donate gear to defray the costs to the county. Bicycles cost between $250 and $800, he said.

Corporal Costello said other details, such as the number of bike patrol officers and their hours, would be determined later.

"At first, maybe only one [officer], or a handful" would be assigned to bike patrol, he said. They would "have to be in good shape to sit on a bike for eight hours and not get fatigued."

The first bicycle patrols may be assigned to historic Main Street in Ellicott City or to the lakefront in Columbia, where there are large concentrations of people, Corporal Costello said.

In April 1992 in Anne Arundel County, bicycle patrols began on the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail, and have been very successful, said Lt. Thomas Suit, the program's coordinator. The Northern District is the only district with bike patrols, but officials are trying to expand the program.

Officers "love it. They work and get exercise at the same time," Lieutenant Suit said.

Bicycle patrols give police better mobility and access to areas a police cruiser can't reach, increase police visibility, and improve police and community relations, Corporal Costello said.

Lieutenant Suit said bicycle patrol officers make "unique arrests" because they can "sneak up" on oblivious drug dealers and burglars, and catch them in the act.

"They smell, see and hear things that just can't be detected by riding through a community in a patrol car," Lieutenant Suit said.

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