City police officer pushes pedal patrols as making residents feel more secure

August 09, 1993|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Staff Writer

"Lollipop," the children call out when Police Officer Keith Merryman patrols Baltimore's Northern District on his Canondale road bike.

How'd he get the name?

"The kids called me 'Lollipop' because I used to carry, you know, that big bag of Dum-Dums with me when I was out on the beat," he said recently. "I used to give them to the kids."

Back at the station, fellow officers call him "Ham" in recognition of his celebrity status as a rookie defender for the Baltimore Bays professional soccer team, which ended its season in mid-July.

"He likes the attention," joked Officer Michael Fisher, Officer Merryman's partner on the bike patrol.

Officer Merryman recently agreed to play another year for the Bays when the team moves indoors to the Clarence H. Du Burns Arena in Canton in November.

The veteran of about three years on the police force says he's comfortable with his "double life" and that neither takes away from the other.

"My superiors are pretty flexible about my schedule," he said, "and the physical condition of biking keeps me in shape for the team and the patrol."

Bike patrols were instituted in October in the Northern District.

Officers Merryman, Fisher, Mark Janicki and Kenny Rowell -- operating in teams of two, patrol an area roughly bounded by the county line on the north, 25th Street and North Avenue on the south, Loch Raven Boulevard and The Alameda on the east, and Pimlico Road on the west. The officers average about 20 miles per eight-hour shift.

The patrols have resulted in approximately 40 arrests, according to Lt. Walter Tuffy, commander of special operations at Northern.

Twenty-two of the arrests were for narcotics violations; the remainder handgun violations, burglaries and other offenses, Lieutenant Tuffy said.

The program was expanded recently with nine bicycle units in the Northeastern, Northwestern and Central districts. By fall, all nine districts will have three bike patrols each -- an indication that the program has been a success, the lieutenant says.

"We've received a lot of calls . . . of support for the patrols," he said. "The community perceives the officers on the bikes as more in touch to solve problems."

That perception is what Officer Merryman believes is more important than the number of arrests made since the patrols began.

l "The fact that they know we're in the area -- out in the alleyways checking the area -- helps people feel more secure," he said. "I don't know if statistics are the right way to say if [the program] is successful or not. If the people feel more secure then that may be a better way of judging success than any statistic."

Officer Merryman, who moved to Rosedale recently, said growing up in Highlandtown had a major influence on his decision to become a police officer.

"We had three or four rec centers in the area . . . and they gave us kids a place to hang out at," he said. "But, I just see a lot of that not happening now. By riding in the communities, I hope I can help kids find rec centers to stay out of trouble."

Officer Merryman said patrolling by bike is better than in a car because it allows personal contact with citizens, and mobility in tight spots.

"When you're in a car, you just wave and leave and not show up for another hour," he said. "When you're on a bike, you have to stop and talk to people."

"Plus, we're able to get down in some alleys, cut across some lots," he said. "You can't do that in a car."

And, according to Officer Merryman, his nickname of "Lollipop" also helps when he's on patrol.

"I think it bridged the gap between us and the kids," he said. "I think it made it easier for them to understand that we're not just there to lock up people."

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