Howard: Next Stop for Bike Patrols? HOWARD COUNTY

August 20, 1993

One of the more intriguing developments in law enforcement recently is the increasing popularity of bicycle patrols. 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 them next year in Ellicott City and Columbia.

"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. "It gets an officer out of his 3,000-pound cruiser and puts him in touch with the community."

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

FTC "Being on the bike makes you more accessible to people," reports Baltimore County Officer Paul Wieber, another bike patrolman. "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."

Bicycle patrols are no panacea to crime problems. But they have proven to be a valuable weapon in the arsenal of police departments. Their time has come in increasingly crime-conscious Howard.

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