The Jacksonville Police Department hopes to increase its community outreach with a new bike patrol unit.
The unit, staffed by officers Wade Horne and Dale Edwards, is responsible for patrolling the Chief Ladiga Trail and working crowds for city events, Chief Marcus Wood said.
“One of my goals when I became chief was wanting to make us work better with the public,” Wood said.
The officers work now on an as-needed basis but Wood said he hopes to examine the budget to allow the officers to work along the trail more frequently.
Wood said he hopes the unit will make it easier for people to stop the officers while they are patrolling.
“It’s a lot easier to flag someone down and talk to them on a bicycle rather than going 35 or 40 miles per hour in a patrol car,” he said.
Rob Schasser, Jacksonville State University’s police chief, said the university department has four bikes available for campus police to use for events, although it does not operate a designated bike unit.
“We use our bikes as a means of community policing,” Schasser said. “Community policing is about officers getting out of the car and interacting with the community.”
Wood said the city’s unit will assist university police during large events, such as football games.
“That will be a huge help to us to have some extra help with community policing during those events,” Schasser said.
Wood also said the unit would be useful for getting into places that are inaccessible to patrol cars.
Officers in the unit completed a 40-hour course through the International Police Mountain Bike Association to become certified.
“The training is more about balance and learning to go slow than distance cycling,” Edwards said.
Both Horne and Edwards enjoy cycling and said they would like to see the unit expand.
“I hope this will help us show a friendlier face for the department,” said Edwards, who has been biking for 25 years.
Edwards currently rides his personal bike for patrolling while the department tries to get funding for the unit.
Wood said police bikes have features that Edwards’ personal bike does not have, including specialized shocks for climbing and descending stairs and a style of chain that’s virtually silent to operate, allowing a quiet approach when necessary. Each bike costs around $1,500, according to Wood.
The department is requesting money for the unit in the city’s 2020 budget, Wood said.
The department was able to pull money from another area in the budget to provide Horne with his bike.
“Everything takes money,” Wood said. “When you start something new, some people are going to be on the fence about it.”
Wood said he hopes to secure between $1,500 and $2,500 in the 2020 budget to buy another police bike and extra equipment for the unit.
“You know, we would like to get more uniforms for them so they have more than one,” Wood said. “There are also special biking shoes that the biking association recommends that would be nice for them to have.”
Wood said he is dedicated to the unit and making sure the officers set a good example for what the unit could become.
“If we are going to do it, we’re going to do it good,” Wood said. “Then we can continue to make it grow in the future.”
The Weaver Police Department operated a bike patrol unit years ago, but disbanded it due to lack of manpower, according to the department.