While the majority of the country is hit by flash flooding and snow storms, riding a bicycle might not be the on top of many agencies' minds. What better place than Florida, then, to explain the benefits of mobilizing a bike patrol rather than locking it up to rust in the weather.
Behind the wheel officers have access to, if installed, a mobile data terminal, high-caliber firearms possibly mounted or stored in the trunk, console storage for paperwork and (possibly the most specific) a mechanical engine. Even the motorcycle officer has this advantage to chase a suspect at 60 mph. While the bicycle typically doesn't experience high speeds, these differences can ultimately lead to the bike's benefits.
"The challenges between being on a bicycle or in a police car are no different," says Sgt. Frank Sousa of the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Police Department. "The nature of the work is the same — you're just on a bike."
Fort Lauderdale posts a bicycle patrol part time, sending officers to other jurisdictions when needed, Miami Beach for example.
There, according to Sgt. Jeff Cohen of the Miami Beach PD motorcycle unit and bicycle unit trainer, events like major holidays and football championships bring in a massive amount of tourists. To combat this influx, Miami Beach trains each officer in a 30-hour bicycle course whether he or she is headed to the bicycle unit or not. "We call them 'Rapid Response Units' because when traffic is bad they can much more rapidly respond than anybody else,' says Cohen.
This training opens a lot of officer's eyes to the bicycle. Sousa recollects that when he began his bicycle training instructors told him he had to go up some stairs on bikes. "I was like, 'That's impossible,' but it's not — a lot of it is mental, learning how you can and what you cannot do with [the bike]." He says officers should look at a bicycle as another law enforcement tool, comparing it to learning the firearm.
"[After training] I had a whole new respect for the bicycle … you can do so much on a bicycle that you would think is not possible," he adds.Tactics
An obvious difference between patrol car and bicycle, even motorcycle and bicycle, is how much the officer is exposed. Overcoming this involves less special-effect dare-devil moves but rather a new way of thinking.
"We train all the time, regardless of being on a bike or on patrol," says Sousa. "We train for a multitude of things … every time something happens you learn from it."
Staying in line with this thinking, Cohen had to translate some methods learned from his motorcycle unit to the bicycle. With a motorbike, an officer has an opportunity to use it has a barricade, since motorcycles are typically large enough to offer some cover. "With a bicycle [riders] really can't do that," he says. "We have to teach [officers] to be very aware of their surroundings and what their cover opportunities are, being that the bicycle provides zero cover."
Cohen offers some potentially unconventional teachings. One example he uses is if an officer is approaching a car and somebody turns with a gun, the officer should hit the ground, get behind the car, or use the suspect's car as cover. "Teach them things like that ... that you can actually shoot from under a car even if you're not shooting at somebody's torso, that you might have to shoot at their foot to knock them down and if that doesn't incapacitate the subject, it should allow access to a shot that will," he says.
Cohen adds that learning how to shoot under and around objects is something that might not have occurred to most officers. "Once you explain that you can shoot under and around and use different things as cover, that really helps … and it gives them more options."
Other bicycle tactics center on the advantages of riding:
Maneuverability: Bicycles are more maneuverable at lower speeds. "You can get the bicycle into tight places that a motorcycle can't get into," says Cohen. He explains that it's much easier to get a pedal bike through crowds rather than to get the motorcycle through.
In his experience, Sousa agrees. "It's great in a crowd — easy to get through and you don't have to worry about traffic congestion. There are a lot of things you can do with a bicycle that you can't with a car." Examples of this include climbing up and down flights of stairs and riding in a multitude of conditions like off-road or in deep sand.
- Keep your distance: While chasing someone, Cohen advises officers not get too close, explaining that while on foot one is trying to catch a suspect and bring him or her to the ground. Yet compared to a foot chase, a bike-riding officer is expending less energy than the running suspect — allowing the officer to have more energy later once the suspect is captured, and while the officer is on the bicycle he is less able to properly defend himself. Getting too close may allow the subject to attack the officer while he is in a vulnerable position.
- Community relations: The bicycle, as stated before, removes the large metal door of the patrol car and slows the officer on the road — making him more approachable. "Guys tend to get to know the business owners and citizens better on bicycle rather than patrolling in cars. They get the chance to stop and talk to people," says Cohen.
"For the most part," he says, "I don't see being on a bicycle as a disadvantage."Training
Two major bicycle training associations for law enforcement — the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA) and the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association (LEBA) — offer training on bicycle tactics and a variety of bike-related topics, such as:
LEBA's available courses:
Class A Certification is granted after a minimum of 32 hours or four consecutive days of mountain bike training. Courses include: nutrition for the mountain bike officer; saddle, knee, hand and foot injuries; stretching; slow speed balance drills; hypothermia and dehydration; accident prevention for the mountain bike officer; safety equipment, uniforms, and accessories; proper bicycle fit; emergency braking; gears and cadence; and police technical skills.
Class B Certification covers the same topics as Class A certification, except for the LEBA Tactical Firearms Training course, and includes only 24 hours or three consecutive days of mountain bike training.
Class C Certification, like Class A and B, includes much of the same information, but with a 16-hour class that is limited to units on body fuels and exercise, mountain bike nomenclature and fit, prevention of common cycling injuries, effective cycling, a minimum of two training rides, suspect contact, gears and cadence, stretching, balance drills and police technical skills. According to the LEBA Web site, "Officers attending a Class C course cannot be accepted as instructor candidates until they have passed a Class B or higher course."
Advanced Training Courses are held throughout the country and can vary from mechanical to drug interdiction topics and typically include an off-road ride. LEBA reports that the courses are normally 24 to 32 hours in length, and can fulfill most states P.O.S.T. requirements for yearly in-service training.
The Instructor Course requires an interested officer to have completed the Basic A course, or equivalent, and a recommendation. Subject to review by an executive board, LEBA may also accept IPMBA training or other organizations.
LEBA also offers Public order and crowd control (response training), bicycle officer survival training, as well as bicycle mechanics/repair training.
- IPMBA, pronounced "eye-PIM-buh," developed its courses and certifications by experts of police and EMS cycling. Formed in 1992 from the League of American Cyclists (established 1880), IPMBA now delivers bicycling education to thousands of public safety cyclists each year.
IPMBA's available courses:
The Police Cyclist Course — I & II is divided into 11 units: Bike handling and vehicular cycling, bike fit, group riding, hazard recognition and common crashes, obstacle clearing and riding techniques, patrol procedures, nighttime patrol, community policing, basic maintenance, legal issues and traffic laws, and fitness and nutrition. II focuses on the development of critical thinking skills and includes topics on the effective deployment of bike teams in various environments, planning routs, problem-solving and more. IPMBA requires a police, EMS or security cyclist certification or equivalent.
The Survival Tactics and Riding Skills Course — offers the latest in bicycle training developments for those who have mastered the basic and fundamentals of cycling and handling. IPMBA divided the course into multiple segments including slow speed skills, firearms, off-road riding, offensive and defensive measures, scenarios, and crowd management and control. Only open to fully commissioned officers with arrest powers, this course also requires the certification or equivalent of IPMBA's Police Cyclist program.
The EMS Bicycle Cyclist Course — I & II, like the Police Cyclist course, teaches basic and emergency bike-handling skills but with an EMS twist.
The Instructor Course involves the completion of an IPMBA Police, EMS or Security Course and certification, application and the attendance of one of the five-day instructor courses. According to the IPMBA Web site, "Students learn to identify and correct improper technique; how to assist students to overcome individual difficulties; and how to incorporate various methods of instruction into the Police, EMS, and Security Cyclist Courses."
The Maintenance Officer Certification Course emphasizes preventative maintenance, repairs and overhaul of component groups.
The Bicycle Response Team Training Course integrates bike officers into a variety of crowd situations. Its topics include Incident command and communications, crowd tactics, precursors to violence, tactics for crowd management and control, and more.
The Security Cyclist Course, for private security personnel, includes fitness and nutrition, vehicular and technical cycling, basic maintenance, equipment, and security patrol procedures.
The Night Ops-Firearms & Tactics Course combines high-intensity tactical training with skill-building in a low-light environment. The course includes low speed maneuvers, off-road riding, live fire drills, a riding skill and firearm competition and more. IPMBA requires a current IPMBA membership, certification or equivalent, and a letter from the department authorizing participation.Suitable investment
Before an agency gets ahead of itself trolling the Internet for a bike, it should be understood that a bicycle patrol unit may not be suitable across the board. While a bike patrol can succeed where large motor vehicles fall short, agencies should decide whether their jurisdiction allows for the bike to excel.
"Make sure that the environment warrants [a bicycle patrol]," advises Cohen. "That it is beneficial to the type of patrol being conducted, the bike can do things cars can't but they certainly have their limitations as well."
He adds, "Bicycles are a great idea — everybody likes to ride a bicycle — make sure before you put that investment in, that you are sure it's right for your department and your area."