The teenager wheeling his BMX bike through the obstacles at the skate park in Liberty Lake’s Pavillion Park Tuesday afternoon probably didn’t realize that all the T-shirt- and shorts-wearing men on mountain bikes around him were police officers.
Three Liberty Lake officers spent part of the afternoon in the skate park preparing for bicycle patrols this summer. “Police mountain biking is completely different than just riding a bike,” said lead instructor Mike Thomas.
Officers learn how to maneuver slowly through crowds. They are taught to navigate curbs and stairs, ride across wet grass and how to use their bike as a defensive weapon. They also learn how to get on and off the bike quickly.
It’s not uncommon for officers on bikes to cut through backyards and parking lots on their way to a call. “We don’t normally just ride on the streets,” Thomas said. “We think in a straight line. We can get there much faster.”
Bicycle patrols are used during the summer, particularly during large events like the community garage sale and Fourth of July. “We can’t get quickly to a call in a patrol car, but on a bike we can,” he said.
Patrolling on bikes also offers benefits. Officers can hear things they wouldn’t hear inside the car. And it’s easier for officers to approach people without being recognized as police. “We’ll watch them doing drug deals, we’ll watch them smoking marijuana,” Thomas said. “We’re within a few feet of them before they realize.”
The officers were also taught how to maintain their bikes, which take a pounding going over obstacles carrying officers wearing heavy gear. Officers still have to wear bulletproof vests and gun belts, in addition to packing enough water and snacks to keep them moving.
Hydration is part of the training as well. “You have 30 to 40 pounds on top of you,” Thomas said. “Especially in the sun, you get hot quickly.”
Officers also carry ticket books and have no problem pulling over cars to hand out citations. It’s easy to cut through a parking lot or yard and catch up with a car, Thomas said. “A lot of times we’ll pull up next to a car and tap the window when they come to a stop sign or a stoplight,” he said.
Patrolling on a bike also offers a change of pace for the officers. “It gets them to actually know their community a bit better,” Thomas said. “They’re more apt to stop and talk to people.”
Officers also patrol on bikes at night, which gives them the opportunity to check out things that go bump in the night and perhaps sneak up on a garage burglar or car prowler.