Pedaling a Beat

August 20, 1993

One of the more intriguing developments in law enforcement recently is the increasing popularity of bicycle cops. Baltimore City, Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties have them as does Bel Air in Harford County and the city of Frederick. The Howard County Police Department is thinking of introducing bike patrols next year.

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

Police forces around the country have experimented with bicycles sporadically for decades. But while 10-speed racers in the past gave officers mobility, their fragile wheels and narrow tires limited their usefulness.

The introduction of more versatile mountain bikes, with all-terrain tires and more gears, signaled to police departments that the era of serious bike patrols had arrived.

In recent times, more and more departments throughout the country have been buying mountain bikes, helmets, Spandex pants and gloves for their officers. They have also forged partnerships with local communities, which often help with the cost of that equipment, getting bike patrols in return.

The result has been a new type of community policing effort that combines the best aspects of the neighborhood cop but gives officers greater mobility. It has proven to be enormously popular among officers. In Baltimore City, Officer Keith Merryman, also a defender for the Baltimore Bays professional soccer team, keeps himself in shape by pedaling through crime-ridden streets.

"Being on the bike makes you more accessible to people," reports Baltimore County Officer Paul Wieber. "In a recent eight-hour shift, I talked to 60 people, which I've never done in a police car."

According to another officer, bicycle cops "smell, see and hear things that just can't be detected by riding through a community in a patrol car."

"We've received a lot of calls. . . of support for the patrols," reports Lt. Walter Tuffy in Baltimore City, where bicycle patrols are being expanded. "The community perceives the officers on the bikes as more in touch to solve problems."

Bicycle patrols are no panacea to crime problems. But they have proven to be one valuable weapon in the arsenal of police departments. They deserve strong community support.

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