MAKING A DENT IN THE CYCLE OF CRIME
By Carla Garret
By Carla Garret
939 words – MR
A recent overhaul to a decades-old bicycle patrol unit in the city of London is making a dent in the cycle of crime in the downtown.
After ramping up its presence with a permanent shift rotation, London Police Service (LPS) saw a dramatic increase in criminal investigations, boasting a 56 per cent increase in its first full year.
“Having a dedicated bicycle patrol team has been a tremendous step forward and the results have been nothing short of amazing,” says Sgt. Gary Strang, who heads up the specialty LPS Community Foot Patrol Unit.
“We have a marked departure from without bikes to with bikes and are on track to beat our 2014 record.”
The unit has experienced substantial growth in the successful apprehension and prosecution of criminals and traffic-related offences, while reducing calls for service on regular patrol.
“Our uniformed presence on foot and bicycle allows members of the community foot patrol unit to preemptively deal with persons and situations that may later turn into calls for service,” says bike patrol Cst. Casey Schmutz.
The LPS has used bicycle patrol over the past 20 years but in 2012, under Strang’s leadership, it made a significant shift in direction, assigning all bicycle patrol to a 12-officer unit dedicated to providing service to the core area of the city.
The bicycles are primarily used from April to December; members return to foot during the heavy winter months.
“Our previous process of deploying bike patrols sporadically and with random officers was ineffective and of no value to the service,” says LPS Chief John Pare.
He adds the new model has created a sense of ownership and connectivity that did not exist under the previous system of deployment and improved community relations.
Downtown London associations, which serve to improve and attract businesses and investors, have also seen the benefits of this value-added service.
“It adds a level of safety to the downtown we really appreciate,” says Downtown London CEO Janette MacDonald. “We are all very reassured to have them here and so visible.”
She says they often see the officers waving as they ride by on patrol or stopping just to say hello.
It is this relationship that allows the police not only to become more effective in their day-to-day duties, but also build bridges and understanding with the community as a whole.
“We get to know our customers on a first name basis. We have the ability to build respect and trust. Not an easy task in today’s environment,” says Schmutz.
Schmutz has been a member of the foot patrol unit since 2013 after spending eight years in regular patrol, where he never got an opportunity to develop rapport with the public.
“In my first year in the unit, my eyes were opened to the benefit of face-to-face interaction with the public we serve and the criminal element from which we attempt to protect them,” he says. “This was something that had been missing during my eight years on regular street patrol.”
However, a successful bike unit takes more than presence to be effective, says Strang. To ensure quick and safe responses to incidents, officers must be properly trained to use their mountain bike.
“When you get hired as a police officer you have a drivers license but they don’t just give you a cruiser. You are trained in the safe operation of police vehicles. A bike is a police vehicle and good biking skills are just as important,” says Strang.
These skills are demonstrated in a popular LPS YouTube video.
In the short video, a thief cuts off a bike lock and rides away down a crowded downtown street. Within seconds, two officers on bicycles are expertly maneuvering through both pedestrian and vehicle traffic, cornering the suspect against a parked car.
The cycling officers show excellent control, making swift precise movements while maintaining their speed as they navigate through the cracks and crevices of downtown London.
Strang, a strong proponent of continued education, made a conscientious effort to ensure officers received accredited training on safely operating their bicycles during police patrol.
The International Police Mountain Bicycle Association (IPMBA) was selected to provide that training, reducing risk both to the officers and the organization.
“Officers need to be mindful of that fact and learn to operate them to their maximum potential,” says Strang, who has biked to work every shift of his 19-year career.
IPMBA offers internationally recognized certification and training courses developed by experts in the fields of police, EMS, and security cycling. Public safety agencies around the world use its courses.
This training has provided unit members the ability to safely and comfortably navigate a police bicycle into areas which were previously inaccessible and difficult to patrol.
Currently officers on the unit are currently only required to complete the training once but Strang, an IPIMBA instructor, says he is looking into a possible recertification process. There is also talk of expanding the unit with requests coming in from other areas of the city.
The bikes have been positively received by the community and have been a bridge to building excellent relationships – the foundation for public support needed to allow police to get the job done, says Strang.
“It has been well worth the investments.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of running criminal investigations
2009 – 237
2010 – 169
2011 – 240
mid 2012 (when bike patrol started) to end of year – 449
2013 – 549
Number of occurrences downtown
2009 – 572
2010 – 528
2012 – 917
2013 – 1023
2014 – 1256