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Pedaling Justice

Andy Ouriel • Aug 23, 2013 at 11:18 AM

Pedaling throughout Sandusky on Sunday, Evan Estep and Adam West definitely eclipsed their exercise quota for the day.

But the Sandusky police officers achieved much more than personal gratification after burning a few hundred calories in three hours.

They covered several miles by bicycle, searching for any signs of trouble along streets and in alleyways. They also assisted colleagues in handling a domestic dispute, and they caught a bicyclist who had several warrants out for his arrest.

All told, the day screamed productivity.

At a glance

• Sandusky police commanders recently revived a long-dormant bicycle patrol program after obtaining a $3,000 grant earlier this year.

• The initiative aims to improve community relations, as officers can more easily talk with people, as opposed to being in cruisers.

• Commanders need to obtain more grant money or receive donations to continue the bicycle patrols.

Estep and West also accomplished a goal that has eluded the police department for years: improving relationships between police and city residents.

Estep and West frequently swung by the Hancock Street Block Party, where dozens of residents danced to banging beats, snacked on munchies and enjoyed a gorgeous day. As the pair pedaled by, many people — including children and adults — approached to chitchat and shake hands.

"When you're in a car, all you can do is wave," Estep said. "But when we're out here on bikes, we can actually stop and talk to people, hear their concerns and maybe bring ourselves a little bit closer to them."

Block party organizer Bonita Lofties greeted Estep and West with bear hugs as soon as she saw them.

"This is a good thing," Lofties said of the bike patrol.

Earlier this year, city officials obtained a $3,000 grant from Norfolk Southern railroad company, which covered the cost of bicycle helmets and the salaries of officers on bike patrol.  

Police commanders used bicycles they obtained in years past, from previous grants, for the new bike patrol program that debuted earlier this summer.

Since becoming the department's head in April, Sandusky police Chief John Orzech took immediate steps to rejuvenate the on-again, off-again bicycle program. It originally started in 1996.

"The bike program is an opportunity for our officers to interact in the community neighborhoods without the normal barriers," Orzech said. 

Orzech has established community relations as a top goal, and the bicycle patrols play well into this, offering a distinct advantage over officers in police cruisers or on foot patrol.

"In a cruiser, you're usually driving through the neighborhoods at normal speeds, which doesn't give much time to interact," Orzech said. "As opposed to foot patrols, bicycles are ready to take off and handle situations should they arise."

Officers on bike patrol typically stay within a one-mile radius of the Meigs Street police station. Among the areas they frequent are Huron Park, near CVS Pharmacy, and downtown.

To date, Orzech has scheduled 11 bike patrol shifts — each shift typically consists of two officers together — with another seven shifts slated to occur later this year. The officers on bike patrol generally bolster the regularly scheduled shift, as opposed to taking officers away from other duties to serve on bike patrols. 

The officers on bicycles still carry guns and wear bulletproof vests, and they can make arrests as needed. Officers in cruisers, meanwhile, are also available to provide backup to them.

Orzech said he'll continue searching for similar grants to ensure a bike patrol remains in Sandusky during warmer months.

"I hope we can keep the program running by establishing some donations or grants," Orzech said. "We would like to continue to incorporate them into our operations."

10 advantages of bicycle patrols

Campus Safety Magazine compiled a list of 10 reasons bicycle patrols are beneficial to communities:

1. Bicycles are less threatening than patrol vehicles, and they give officers opportunities to create better impressions on residents.  

2. Other bicyclists are more accepting of bike patrol officers. Cyclists can connect with bicycle officers on different levels, as opposed to officers in cruisers. 

3. Bicycle patrols result in more than twice as many contacts with the public, compared to vehicle patrols.

4. Bicycle police uniforms appear less threatening.

5. Perpetrators don't notice bike patrols.

6. Bike patrols can go where traditional patrol vehicles can't.

7. Bicycle officers can use all of their senses to detect illegal activity — they can see, hear and even smell things that an officer in a cruiser might not notice.

8. Bicycles have other uses, including targeted enforcement, surveillance, traffic enforcement and public order.

9. Bicycles cost less to purchase and maintain, compared to police cruisers.

10. Bikes provide environmental and health benefits, with zero emissions and no need for fuel.  

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