Bike Patrol Officer In Hartford Says He's Visible - And Stealthy
Business Owners Say It's Easy To Share Their Concerns With Him
By STEVEN GOODE
October 03, 2010
HARTFORD — — Miguel Maldonado enjoys being a bicycle patrol officer because it gives him visibility most of the time and in times of need — stealth.
Maldonado, a Hartford Police Department community service officer who covers the Frog Hollow neighborhood, says that being on a bike makes it easier for him to interact with business owners and pedestrians as he pedals the streets and sidewalks.
The business owners like seeing Maldonado because it gives them an opportunity to share their concerns. And his consistent presence cuts down on loitering in front of their stores.
"It's working good," said Roberto Muniz, who owns Los Cubanitos bakery at Park and Zion streets.
Pedestrians are also more likely to approach him and start a conversation or pass on a tip when Maldonado is on a bike rather than in a cruiser.
But his two-wheeled transportation is especially handy when Maldonado is searching for someone or hoping to use the element of surprise.
"They're usually looking for a cruiser," said Maldonado, who has been a city officer for seven years and certified for bicycle patrol for the past four.
On a recent afternoon, Maldonado demonstrated his bike's stealth and maneuverability after being alerted to a robbery at Washington and Park streets.
Maldonado took a description in Spanish from the victim, who said he had a gold chain snatched from his neck. He told Maldonado that the robber headed east, a young African American man wearing a red baseball cap and black T-shirt.
Alternating between the sidewalks and streets, Maldonado quickly and quietly pedaled his bike through apartment complexes, backyards and parking lots. At one point, he pulled his bike up to the rear of a building on Park Street, where he discovered the shell of a pickup truck on a small patch of grass. Someone appeared to be living in it.
"A cruiser probably wouldn't have been able to pull in far enough to see this," Maldonado said.
But Maldonado didn't find anyone matching the suspect's description. He headed back to the McDonald's restaurant on Washington Street, where he learned from a surveillance tape that the T-shirt the suspect was wearing was white, not black, as the victim had remembered. Regardless of the outcome of the robbery investigation, Maldonado said he enjoys the assignment.
"It helps you keep in shape," he said.
Hartford police Sgt. James Elliott, who has been training officers for bicycle patrol since 1999, said the department has about 150 officers certified for that duty and 45 to 50 aluminum-frame bikes outfitted with police lights and Kevlar-beaded tires. The bicycles cost between $1,800 and $2,200.
The 40-hour certification course includes learning to ride up stairs and over and around obstacles, repair lessons, a 48-mile ride and firearms qualification.
Elliott said that bicycle patrols originated in the U.S. in the early 1900s and made a resurgence in the 1990s when the Seattle Police Department began a community policing effort.
It's not unusual, Elliott said, for a bicycle patrol officer to roll up on a drug transaction and have the parties continue about their business because the officer's presence doesn't register with them.
Bicycle patrols are also good for surveillance and policing at events such as last Friday's Toby Keith concert, where 15 to 20 bike officers circulated through the parking lots.
Elliott said he would someday like to create a rapid response bicycle unit.
"They're good for order and control of large crowds," he said.
Elliott said that getting officers out of cruisers and onto bicycles builds better relationships with the community.
"Sometimes when they see the cruiser, you get the [us against them] look," he said. "With the bike, people will come up to you more. And everybody wants to know about the bike."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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