Behind the handle bars

While bicycle patrol presents a unique image, it's the same shift at the end of the day -- save the engine fumes


     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:

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