Fla. police praised for bike patrols

By Heather Scofield
The News-Journal

BUNNELL, Fla. — They ride up and down stairs, through swampland, and on steep, rocky terrain when they train. And they do it in long stretches to build endurance. "The average bicyclist doesn't usually ride their bike in places that we are trained to go with ours," said deputy Kevin Byrne of the Flagler County sheriff's Bicycle Patrol Unit.

Byrne is one of 13 deputies on Cpl. Frank Celico's bike patrol team, which covers day and night shifts, rain or shine. "Crime doesn't stop just because the weather's bad," said Byrne.

He said the pedaling patrols keep an eye on businesses, parks and neighborhoods, occasionally spending some one-on-one time getting to know people they meet along the way.

To promote such interaction with the community and help reduce fuel costs, Sheriff Donald Fleming recently beefed up the agency's bike patrol from just a few members to a full rotation of 13. It's the first time since the 1990s the agency has had a full bicycle patrol, officials said.

Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood said expanding his department's bike patrol was something he made a priority when he took the helm in 2006. Today, his department has roughly 40 bicycles, which cost about $1,500 to $2,000 each to buy and equip with the agency's name and all the necessary lights, reflectors, shoe grips and bike repair tools the officers need to carry.

All bike patrol officers also learn how to fix their bikes while on the streets, and they go through a rigorous training program that requires them to ride long hours in difficult weather and on terrain one usually wouldn't associate with a casual bike ride, Byrne said.

It's a great workout, and it can even be fun, Celico and Chitwood agreed.

In Daytona Beach, some officers ride in uniform while others wear plain clothes, Chitwood said, adding the bike patrols have become an important tool in fighting illegal drug activity. In fact, Chitwood said he has made arrests himself, confiscating drugs -- and even guns -- while on a bicycle.

And that's just me," Chitwood said.

The Volusia County Sheriff's Office has 21 bicycles with 26 people trained to patrol on them, said spokesman Gary Davidson. The numbers there haven't increased in light of rising fuel costs, either, Davidson said, but the unit is prized for its effectiveness.

It's not uncommon for deputies to pedal up to in-progress drug deals or active drug usage, or make contact with someone who's wanted on open warrants," Davidson said.

Byrne and Celico said they feel bicycles give them an advantage in some situations in that they can get a little closer and see a little more before they're recognized as law enforcement. And being out in the open also helps increase awareness.

It's awfully hard to smell cannabis burning or hear someone calling for help from inside a patrol car with the air on and the windows up," Byrne said.

But there's more to bike patrols than catching criminals. Chitwood said he thinks the approachable presence a bicycle-riding officer relays to the community is so important, his command staff regularly pedals city streets just to "touch base with residents."

It allows officers and managers to hear concerns, compliments or requests people may not otherwise take the time to relay, Chitwood said.

Copyright 2008 The News-Journal

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