Bike patrol proving useful and versatile

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 9, 2001

In its fourth year, the Albert Lea Police Department Bike Patrol is getting more respect – and more things done – than ever before.

Saturday, June 09, 2001

In its fourth year, the Albert Lea Police Department Bike Patrol is getting more respect – and more things done – than ever before.

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Police officers on bikes can’t do everything officers in squad cars can do, but they do more than most people expect, and can have advantages in some cases, said Albert Lea Police Officers Frank Cole and Bob Etheridge, who have ridden with the bike patrol since it began in 1998.

People take them more seriously now than when they started patrolling four years ago, the officers said.

&uot;When the high school was downtown, they had a lot of problems in Central Park,&uot; Cole said. &uot;So they’d call the bike patrol in to work overtime at the park.&uot;

&uot;After a while, when that was what the bike patrol was doing, they’d be looking over their shoulder for the bike,&uot; he said.

Bike patrol officers have caught car burglars, investigated suspicious people, caught juveniles out past curfew, and made traffic stops. Bikes can go around heavy traffic, take shortcuts, and cut across yards and parks if necessary, the officers said. Often times, the bike patrol can arrive on a call before squad cars do.

&uot;If (suspects) want to run from us, all they’re going to do is go to jail tired,&uot; Cole said.

The bike patrol is better than squads at patrolling large events like the Fourth of July fireworks celebration, Homecoming, Festival of Bands, or anywhere large crowds of people gather, Etheridge said.

&uot;There’s no way a squad car is going to get through some of those areas,&uot; he said.

&uot;We go up stairs, we go down stairs, we jump curbs, go over obstacles,&uot; Cole said. &uot;We can ride through a crowd of people without knocking anybody over.&uot;

Officers on bikes are more accessible to the public in a social sense too, they said. People are less intimidated by cops on bikes than they are by cops in squads, Etheridge said.

&uot;It’s such an effective way to get the officer out into the public,&uot; Etheridge said. &uot;If there’s a cop on a bike, there’s an actual exchange between them.&uot;

The bikes have a noiseless hub, so they are good stealth vehicles too, Etheridge said.

&uot;When you’re out at night, you can hear a car blocks away, and anybody that’s out can hear a squad car from blocks away,&uot; he said. &uot;On the bikes, a lot of times we can get right up behind them and they don’t hear us.&uot;

The Albert Lea Police Department has five patrol bikes of varying size. Officers use their own seats and equipment bags to customize them a little bit, Cole said.

&uot;To be able to ride 10 hours, which is a normal shift, you want the bike set up just for you,&uot; Etheridge said.

Bike patrol officers wear portable radios and equipment belts. Normally, officers wear a polo shirt with an embroidered badge and police markings on back, Cole said.

The bikes and officers’ helmets are also marked for identification.

Officers ride between 50 and 60 miles a night, so it helps to be in shape, Cole said.

The bikes have front suspension and battery-powered headlights, and cost about $800 apiece, officers said.

&uot;That’s about 1,000 times less the cost of a squad car,&uot; Etheridge said.