Bicycles Give Police Friendly Flexibility

MORE United States cities and towns are putting police on bicycles, letting them feel neighborhoods as though they're walking a beat.

``They get to know a small area. Trust starts to build up. It has a very good psychological advantage for the neighborhoods,'' says Carol Juth, a criminologist at Hope College in Holland, Mich.

Small towns like State College, Pa., and big cities like San Francisco have put officers on bikes with three missions - community relations, crime deterrence, and law enforcement. Officers buckled into a cruiser are handcuffed in their attempts to accomplish the first two.

``One of the things that people see with cruisers are anonymous cops driving from Point A to Point B,'' says Capt. Tim Hettrich of San Francisco's south side. ``When they see the bike officer, they all recognize, `That's our officer.' ''

``A foot-patrol officer would go by a place one or two times a day. These officers are there 20 times a day,'' says Captain Hettrich, who replaced all his foot patrol officers after the community donated money to buy six bikes.

Fort Worth, Texas, Seattle, and Tulsa, Okla., as well as Las Vegas, Newark, N.J., and several cities in Pennsylvania already have bike patrols.

The custom-fitted mountain bikes with police gear bolted to the frames are automatic conversation pieces. ``Children come up to them,'' Hettrick says of the pedalling officers. ``There's none of this, `You're the pig. You're the foe.' It's all, `What kind of bike are you riding, officer?' '' He has a small percentage of his officers assigned to bicycles - six of 118 - and uses them only until 9 p.m.

``We can have them out all hours of the night,'' says Tom King, State College's police chief. ``We want the officers to get out into a particular neighborhood - particularly downtown and where the residential areas merge into downtown - and do a good job interacting with the public.''

And the mountain bikes cost less than $1,000. A fully equipped cruiser would cost near $20,000.

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