Bike patrol officers play a vital role in modern law enforcement, utilizing two wheels to navigate the streets and connect with communities. To excel in this unique role, officers must possess a combination of both biking and policing skills.
Whether you're a seasoned bike officer or hoping to one day patrol by bike, these 10 tips from the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA) Board of Directors can help you enhance your effectiveness, safety, and impact.
The tips are:
1. Conduct an “ABC Quick Check” Before Each Shift
Even a well-maintained bicycle is subject to mechanical problems, and not all patrol bikes get the TLC they deserve. This preventive check can help reduce the risk of experiencing a mechanical failure while on patrol.
- Air — Check the tire pressure.
- Brakes — Check the brakes for wear and adjustment.
- Crank — Check the crankset (bottom bracket, crankarms, and chainrings).
- Quick — Check all quick releases (hubs, seat post, etc.) to make sure they are tight, but not too tight, and that the levers are in the correct position.
- Check the overall condition of the bike by taking a short ride to make sure everything is working properly.
- E — If riding an e-bike, check the computer, ride/assist mode switch, battery, motor, speed sensor, etc. Make sure the battery is fully charged.
2. Stay in Shape
Health and safety should be high priorities for all law enforcement officers, and it is especially important for those who rely on pedal power. Work out regularly and include aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility-building exercises. If possible, engage in both on-road and off-road riding. Both will bolster your physical fitness, but on-road riding will improve your traffic skills, and off-road riding will enable you to develop a high concentration of bike skills in a very short time period.
3. Engage in Regular In-Service Training
Bike skills are perishable. They can and will deteriorate if not routinely practiced. Even if you operate a bicycle on duty regularly, IPMBA recommends quarterly in-service training, which can include skill development, firearms, scenarios, mission-specific operations, etc. Make sure your training is “Three-R”: recent, realistic, and relevant. Continued in-service training is needed to maintain and expand your knowledge, skills, and abilities.
4. Know Your Limitations
Know your riding capabilities. When on patrol, ride within your limits. On patrol is not the time to conquer a new obstacle in an unfamiliar area while responding to a call. If unsure of your ability to overcome an obstacle, go around, dismount and carry, or slow down. A broken bike or a broken officer is no good to the person who needs your assistance.
5. Become More Proficient with Your Sidearm
Set higher standards than your department’s qualification standard and seek out bicycle-specific firearms training. During training, wear your full-duty bike uniform, footwear, duty gear, and personal protective equipment (gloves, helmet, eyewear, and ballistic vest) as they will affect your technique and accuracy. Practice exertion drills and dynamic dismounts before firing. And practice at greater distances. On a bike, you are more exposed, and not having access to a long rifle means you need to be better with your sidearm.
6. Communicate Early and Often
Even in an era of GPS and other tracking devices, you must always remain aware of your location and communicate it to other officers and dispatchers. Because bicycles can go places inaccessible to standard patrol vehicles, it may be difficult for your backup to locate you. Prior to any enforcement action or contact, relay your position using both street names and landmarks. If you ride with a partner, pre-determine who will serve as contact and cover, and develop a system of verbal and non-verbal signals.
7. Don’t Give Up the Mechanical Advantage
What separates bike patrol from foot patrol is the ability to cover more territory, at a higher speed, and with less fatigue. A bike officer can patrol a larger area than a foot patrol officer while still providing personalized service. The mechanical advantage also enables a bike-mounted officer to remain in pursuit of a running suspect until the suspect is exhausted and/or until a motorized backup unit arrives.
8. Use the Bike as a Community Engagement Tool
The bicycle enables you to more easily engage with members of your community and your local businesses. Use it to build strong ties so that the community and businesses are more likely to support you in your efforts to protect and serve. The personal relationships you foster can gain you strong allies if your bike operations are threatened by budget cuts and/or personnel shortages. Bicycle safety education and bicycle theft prevention programs, community rides, and bicycle/helmet/light giveaways are just a few ways to engage in relationship-building.
9. Expand Your Bike Patrol Horizons
Don’t think about the bike as being merely a mode of transportation; it is so much more than that. There are countless ways in which this important policing tool can be utilized. During the course of a shift, your patrol bike can not only take you where you need to go, but it can also serve as your office, a barricade, a signaling device, an observation platform, a shield, and a conversation starter. Bikes can be used for traffic enforcement, surveillance, tourist and nightlife district policing, crowd management, school resource officers, and community relations – the sky's the limit!
10. Set a Good Example
Bike officers are constantly in the public eye. Know and follow the laws and regulations governing cycling in your jurisdiction. Wear a helmet and other personal protective equipment. Communicate your movements clearly with other road users. Use caution when cycling in crowded areas or around pedestrians and yield as necessary. Be respectful and courteous to members of the public. Always follow department policies and procedures when using your bike on duty, and always represent your department and profession in a professional and responsible manner.