Gas prices may put Austin officers on bicycles


By Isadora Vail
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Tex. — Most police departments in Williamson County have bikes they haven't used in years and are considering dusting them off to help cope with gas prices. But some departments lack enough officers for full-time bike patrols.

Taylor has four mountain bikes, said Sgt. Dan Ramsey, who heads the dormant bike patrol unit, but the department has been unable to use the bikes for a few years because it doesn't have enough officers. He said four cadets are in training now, and the department hopes to have the bike unit operating within a year. The department is adding officers, so it will finally have enough for some to be on bike patrol, Ramsey said.

"We are in the process to put them back on the street," Ramsey said. "Not only will it help with increasing gas prices, but it puts us in better contact with the public, and it is healthier for the officers."

Ramsey said the public finds bike patrol officers more approachable than those in a patrol car because they are easily accessible and less intimidating.

Cedar Park police have four mountain bikes that officers use for National Night Out, the Fourth of July, cook-offs and other events.

The department will deploy the bikes if there is an increase in reports of burglaries or car break-ins, said Capt. Mike Harmon, a department spokesman. Harmon said officers can see more when riding a bike and can get into alleys or driveways if necessary.

"We will also use them in some of our trails like Brushy Creek and other areas," Harmon said. "It's not a full-time unit, and we use them kind of sporadically."

Most officers are required to take a one- or two-day course about bike safety and bike maintenance, Ramsey and Harmon said.

Smaller departments such as those in Liberty Hill, Hutto and Jarrell do not have plans to buy bikes, but others might. Florence Police Chief Jeff Dever said that with rising gas prices, the department might consider adding bicycles.

Georgetown police will begin using their Impact team, a group of officers that will concentrate on areas where crime is higher, within the next few months, and Lt. Evelyn McLean said four bikes will be part of the team.

"It's going to be more of a proactive measure here," McLean said. "We can use our bikes in hike-and-bike trails, retail store parking lots, and it would be easier than a patrol car because of easy maneuvering."

Copyright 2008 The Austin American-Statesman

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