- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - Once only used by bigger cities, more small police departments are turning to bicycle patrols.

The Tupelo Police Department first started putting officers on bikes almost 20 years ago. When former TPD officer Randy Tutor became the Pontotoc Police Chief two years ago, he brought the idea with him. The New Albany Board of Aldermen recently gave Police Chief Chris Robertson the go-ahead to start a four-man squad.

And the university police departments at both the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University make extensive use of pedal power to patrol their campuses.

In late 1998, the Tupelo PD rolled out a four-man unit that patrolled the mall parking lots during the holiday season and helped at festivals across the city. While the unit has seen fewer activities over the years, Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre sees a future for bikes with a growing number of festivals and events downtown in Fairpark

“We still have some bicycles and are looking to reorganize and bring that unit back,” he said.

Tutor saw the benefits of bike patrols when he was at Tupelo PD and after becoming Pontotoc Police Chief in July 2014, one of the first things he looked for were bikes.

“Our bikes were donated from another department,” Tutor said, “so our only investment was the training and bicycle certification.

“While it is a great enforcement tool - we use them to work traffic at downtown events and 5k runs - the officers on bikes are more approachable than officers in a car. People will stop them, ask about the bikes and just have a conversation.”

By their nature, bicycles allow officers to react and respond to certain situations better than patrol cars. There was a medical call last year during the July 4 celebration in Howard Stafford Park. While patrol cars were blocked by traffic, Tutor watched the bike patrol zip over the grass to quickly respond and use radios to relay the situation to medical personnel.

Pontotoc PD also uses the bikes to patrol and monitor the Tanglefoot Trail, the decommissioned railroad converted into a 44-mile walking and biking trail that runs from Houston north to New Albany. More than 4.5 miles of the trial is inside the Pontotoc city limits.

“I jog on it myself,” Tutor said. “The foot traffic is big every day in town and people come from everywhere to use it on the weekends, especially Saturday.”

Having the Tanglefoot’s northern trail head just 50 feet from the New Albany Police Department was one of the reasons Robertson started looking for a bike patrol.

“Up until recently, it wasn’t (economically) feasible for our small department to have a bike unit,” Robertson said. “The city board recently passed an ordinance limiting downtown parking to two hours.

“There was a lot of discussion about how to enforce it and the idea of a bike patrol came up. Because of the close proximity of downtown, the Tanglefoot Trail, the Park along the River and the SportsPlex, it would be easy to create a patrol zone.”

After getting the nod from the board last month, Robertson ordered the bicycles and equipment. He also has four officers who have volunteered and will be going to bicycle training the third week in July.

Before officers can hit the street on a bicycle, they must pass 40 hours of specialized training that will not only familiarize them with their bike, but also show them how to handle urban obstacles like curbs and stairs.

“Going up stairs is all about technique,” said Pontotoc Bike Patrol Officer Brad Owen. “You shift your weight and raise the front wheel and momentum will get you easily up four steps.”

While he initially volunteered for the bike patrol as a way to stay fit, Owen loves the interaction it allows with the community.

“We get to meet people in a new way,” Owen said. “And where kids might shy away from an officer in a patrol car, the kids will stop you on a bike just to talk. They love the patrol bikes.”


Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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