County police are taking to the woods and footpaths and trails -- at least for the summer.
A new two-man bike patrol team has been deployed in Columbia's Town Center, where two recent assaults occurred on pathways, and at a popular Savage swimming hole, where a Glen Burnie man died two weeks ago, Chief James Robey said.
Officers Roch DeFrances and Officer Mark Perry make up the unit that department officials say will assist patrol vehicles and // boost police presence in wooded areas that offer good cover for criminals.
"It's great," said Officer DeFrances. "You get to go places where you can't go any other time."
Officers received a week of bicycle patrol training on a course at the Baltimore County police department, including riding 15 miles a day, jumping curbs and steering the rugged bikes down stairs. The purple Trek mountain bikes were purchased with money from forfeited property that had been confiscated by police during criminal investigations.
The department paid $1,800 for the two bicycles, bike locks, whistles, lights, bells, packs and other attached equipment. Bikes are also equipped with first aid kits.
Uniform sets -- made up of blue shorts, short-sleeve shirts, and a utility belt with a holster, whistle and other essentials -- cost $650 for both officers.
The officers will perform ordinary functions, signing citations for alcohol and parking violations, communicating with patrol vehicles by radio and making arrests.
Last week, Officer DeFrances said he assisted an officer in a patrol vehicle in the pursuit and arrest of two car thieves who abandoned a stolen vehicle and fled into woods near Majors Lane and Tamar Drive in Columbia's Long Reach village.
The officers will patrol areas from 1:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday from June to early September. In the fall, Officer DeFrances will go back to patrolling county roads in a car, and Officer Perry will return to the department's DARE program.
Chief Robey said the bike patrols will return next spring, when he hopes to have a larger team of officers.
Although police acknowledge that more crime occurs at night, the officers will mainly work during the day. Chief Robey said their schedule is designed for the officers' safety.
"At night you're a target, not a police officer," said Officer DeFrances. "It can get crazy."
Yesterday, the officers said they planned to patrol a rocky section of the Middle Patuxent River near Savage Mill, where a 23-year-old Glen Burnie man who had been drinking with friends drowned June 19.
Since the officers can haul their bikes on a bike rack attached to a patrol car, their patrol areas will vary, depending on patterns of crime, public safety concerns or on residents' requests for their services.
For the past week and a half, the officers also have been riding their bikes at lakes, paths and woods in Town Center.
Two incidents in Town Center in late May -- an attempted rape and the assault of a man by a group of teen-agers on a footbridge near the county's Central Library -- prompted the increased police presence.
The officers said they've been met with a positive reaction so far, especially from children who frequently ride their bikes alongside.
"At first I was a little apprehensive, but now I'm enjoying it," says Officer Perry.