- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - People are more likely to approach law enforcement officers on bicycles, which is just fine with the two newest members of the Hall County Sheriff’s Department bike patrol.

“I’m a people person, and the bike puts me closer to the people,” Melissa Kier said.

On a bicycle, you get more interaction with the public, said the other new patrol member, Camela Jiskra.

Seeing a deputy on a bike gives people a reason to go talk to them. People will ask a deputy about the bicycle and what the bike patrol does, said Sgt. Jason Smith, who’s in charge of the bike patrol. So the patrol opens up a lot of doors between the Sheriff’s Department and the public.

Kier and Jiskra, who are both Hall County deputies, haven’t climbed onto their bikes officially yet, but they will soon. The two women, along with deputy Andrew Mangeot, received their certification from the Bellevue Police Department on May 23 through 26.

The training included some bumpy moments. Among other things, they learned how to ride a bike down a long flight of stairs. They also learned how to ride over various other obstacles.

The Grand Island Independent (https://bit.ly/28OZH62 ) reports that four deputies make up the Sheriff’s Department bike patrol, which has been around for more than 10 years. The other current member is Christifer Folkerts.

Kier joined the Sheriff’s Department in December 2014. Jiskra will celebrate her third anniversary as a deputy next month.

Two of the deputies work during the day, the other two at night.

You won’t see deputies on bikes in Grand Island very much. Inside the city, an officer on a bike is probably part of the Grand Island Police Department’s bike patrol.

But the deputies do make frequent visits to Wood River, Doniphan, Cairo and Alda.

At about 6 a.m., you might find Kier checking business doors in one of those villages. Because she starts her workday at 5 a.m., the businesses in those towns are closed when she arrives.

During their training, the deputies learned how to maneuver bikes up close to a building so they’re able to check a door without getting off the bike.

The bike patrol works at area events that attract large numbers of people, such as Wood River’s citywide garage sale and the Junk Jaunt in Cairo.

On bicycle, it’s easier to get through traffic than it is in a car. During those big events, they also “make a lot of good contacts,” Smith said.

Public relations work might include school programs and bike safety programs.

The deputies don’t ride their bikes to the area villages. They drive and remove their bikes from the car when they arrive. The bikes are attached to a rack on the car.

When they visit other towns, it’s practical for them to have their cars close by, Kier said.

In addition to Hall County villages, the deputies visit Mormon Island State Recreation Area and Hall County Park. One duty they might carry out is checking fishing permits, Smith said.

At night, the bike patrol officers sometimes catch crimes in progress. Because bikes are quiet, the deputies might be able to sneak up on criminals.

“People don’t know you’re there,” Smith said.

The bikes can be used year-round, provided the weather isn’t cold and snowy. But the deputies mostly hit their bikes in the spring and summer, Smith said. The season usually runs from March until about October.

A key reason people join the bike patrol is they get to wear shorts, Smith said. When the temperature is 100 degrees, that makes a difference.

But they have to wear bulletproof vests under their shirts, so they’re still doing their share of sweating.

Exercise is also important in law enforcement, Kier said.

“A huge benefit for being on the bike patrol is you’re going to get your exercise,” she said.

Putting deputies on bikes also saves money.

“If we’re out of our vehicles, we’re not wasting gas. We’re not running our air conditioning,” Jiskra said.

Kier encourages people to approach members of the bike patrol. The public also shouldn’t assume an officer on a bicycle is limited. A bike officer can basically do anything he or she could in a patrol car, Kier said.

The Police Department’s bike patrol consists of about eight officers, Sgt. Bud Edwards said. Two of the officers, Eric Olson and Jesse Parker, are being trained to become instructors.

Police officers on bikes are dispatched to events such as the Nebraska State Fair, Hall County Fair, Central Nebraska Ethnic Festival and Harvest of Harmony. They also work regular patrol hours, visiting the city’s bike paths.

If a residential area has seen a spate of burglaries, the officers will patrol the area “because nobody’s expecting to see a cop on a bicycle,” Edwards said.

He agrees that putting officers on bikes also saves money on gasoline.

Don’t expect to see the sergeant on a bicycle, though.

“Nobody’d want to see my chicken legs in shorts,” Edwards said.

___

Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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