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Rolling with the Southeast Bike Patrol

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 15th, 2006 at 9:40 am

On a bike-along in SE Precinct
[Officers Quick (L) and
Pickett (R) on
Hawthorne Blvd.]

Back in October I joined Officers Rob Quick and Robert Pickett of the Portland Police Bureau for a bike-along.

Pickett and Quick are on the Southeast Portland Bike Patrol whose enforcement boundaries cover everything from SE Hawthorne Blvd. to I-84, and I-205 down to the Esplanade.

I wanted to gain a perspective on the streets from a bike cop's point-of-view, learn more about the bike patrol, get to know the officers a little better, and compare this experience to my previous ride-along in a patrol car back in August.

I first met Officer Pickett through his posts in the Portland Bike Forums during the "Creep named James" saga. He then showed up to the donut-eating contest at Carfree Day and most recently he was at Sunnyside School for Walk and Bike to School Day.

His actions and presence at these events show that Pickett is a true community police officer and it's obvious he loves his job. Being on a bike, he tells me, enables him to not only be outside and enjoy the elements, but to establish relationships with people in the neighborhoods.

[Pickett and Quick in the Fred Meyer parking lot.]

Pickett is a bit of a crusader within the ranks, fighting to keep the bike patrol unit alive. It's only been up-and-running since May of this year and Pickett worries about funding and recruitment of officers to keep it going. At one point he testified on behalf of bike patrol in front of City Council. He said,

"The current Southeast Bike Patrol only happened because several officers really pushed it through. There's always been a lack of interest, resources, and outside advocacy pushing for it...and it remains an indefinite program."

I know city budgets are tight these days, but I was still disappointed at the lack of funding and interest in bike patrol units. To me, they seem like the perfect tool for effective community policing, which many Portland neighborhoods could use much more of these days. Pickett agrees,

"Being on bikes is a much more proactive policing style. We are so close the neighborhoods and the streets, that we often roll up on situations long before they have escalated. We also know the personalities of the people that live on the streets much better because of our close contact with them. This means we can tell when someone is a real threat to the community, or maybe they've just had too much to drink, or lost their medications. Because we know them, we can show the appropriate level of response."

Unfortunately, the Southeast bike patrol is currently the only active bike unit outside the city center. According to Pickett, out of 900 total officers, there are probably only "a few dozen" who have ever done bike patrol.

On a bike-along in SE Precinct On a bike-along in SE Precinct

In addition to being physically and mentally able to ride a bike all day, bike patrol officers must go through special training. Pickett and Quick are both certified by the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association (LEBA) which started in Seattle back in 1987.

On average, bike patrol officers ride about eight hours a day. The level of physical fitness it takes to ride a bike all day might be one deterrent to getting more cops interested in the program, but for Officer Quick -- whose competed in a few triathlons and rides into work each day from east Portland -- it's no problem.

[Pickett (left) and a few other officers stopped by a Mocktails on the Bridge event in June.]

Pickett has never entered a competition, but for a few months in 2000, he worked as a bike messenger for Transerv in downtown Portland. When he told me that he jokingly said, "Does that make me a sell out?"

Combined with his messenger experience, I bet Officer Pickett would be great at cyclocross. He says they're not permitted to shoot their gun from the saddle, so they've been trained to jump off their bikes at full speed (I should have asked to demonstrate for the camera).

On a bike-along in SE Precinct
[Bike patrol officers can
mix with the community.]

His past job as a messenger adds to my feeling that Pickett doesn't fit the typical cop stereotype. Towards the end of the bike-along, we came across a homeless guy with a pending arrest warrant. Pickett seemed pensive as he came over to brief me on the situation.

He relayed his frustration about this situation because this is a typical modus operandi for many street people. They just go in-and-out of the system, never finding help, and never getting off the street...but Pickett had no choice, he had to honor the warrant and repeat the whole process once again.

On a bike-along in SE Precinct
[Officer Robert Pickett]

Noticeably exasperated, he expressed regret and said that sometimes he feels like he's just part of the system. He wishes he could do more to solve the problems he encounters, instead of just processing them.

During the course of our patrol that day we chatted with several business owners, questioned several people living on the street, and ran into a group of school kids (they loved Pickett's pig bell (in photo above)). The whole time I kept thinking how great it would it be if we had many more bike-mounted officers in Portland.

As the number of cyclists in Portland increases, we need more officers with real, on-the-bike experience.

I just wish there was more interest and enthusiasm from the Police Bureau for bike-mounted patrols. Not only are they good for community relations and policing, but they also give cops a valuable perspective on traffic safety issues from a bicyclist's point-of-view.

Thanks Officers Pickett and Quick for letting me tag along. I'm sure I'll see you out on the streets next time I'm in your neighborhood.

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Comments
  • Matt Davis December 15, 2006 at 10:24 am

    This post makes for a nice balance from the "Bike Sting" cop-knocking comments on the post two days ago. Could you ever see yourself being a bike-cop, Jon?

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  • Jonathan Maus December 15, 2006 at 10:29 am

    Matt,

    Please don't insinuate that my use of the word, "sting" means I am "cop-knocking".

    I use that word simply because I feel it most clearly communicates what happened. Most people don't know what an "enforcement mission" is.

    And as for being a bike-cop myself. I could never work for the Police Bureau (it's just not my thing!), but the idea of patrolling the community on a bike and meeting people doesn't sound too bad to me.

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  • Andy December 15, 2006 at 11:00 am

    I know Officer Pickett pretty well, outside of his professional life. This is a great little story that really captures Robert's personality and passion for life. Nice work! Now what can we do to support the cops-on-bikes program?!?!

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  • Sam Livingston-Gray December 15, 2006 at 11:06 am

    Okay, here's a completely inane question: do they use clipless pedals for on-bike power, or street shoes for off-bike traction? (=

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  • Brian E December 15, 2006 at 11:13 am

    I like the pig bell.

    I got stuck on the Beaverton Police Little League team when i was a kid. It was the 70's and evryone would aways make Pig jokes about us. One evening an Officer came to see us play and give us a little talk. He proudly told us that P.I.G. stands for Pride, Integrity, and Guts. I'll never forget that.

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  • J Price December 15, 2006 at 11:22 am

    If I remember from your ride along with the car patrol the cop actually did several 'cop-like' things; this report makes note of chatting, questioning, and hanging with some kids [and the one homeless warrant deal].

    I understand not all police activity is ticketing and arresting wrongdoers and that community policing is often just the presence and making contacts but how many hours were they pedaling around not really enforcing or investigating?

    Just my rides in from the westside exhibit all sorts of "educational enforcement" that could take place.

    I like the general idea but sadly all I recall seeing bike cops doing is riding around on sidewalks, chatting with eachother in a park or following the CM folks around waiting for something to happen.

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  • revphil December 15, 2006 at 11:24 am

    Id sign a petition to get more cops out of cars and motorcycles and onto bikes. Id even help circulate it.

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  • Jonathan Maus December 15, 2006 at 11:27 am

    J Price,

    You're right, my ride-along in a patrol car was much more business-like...and for good reason.

    For one, bike patrol officers are not tied to the main dispatch radio. Their stated mission is different than patrol car officers.

    Pickett said their mission, as bike-cops, is to, "be a visible presence and respond to low-level livability issues."

    So yes, a lot of their work is just to be seen and chat and be approachable by people in the community.

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  • Thom December 15, 2006 at 11:46 am

    Look at the training section of the LEBA site: http://www.leba.org/training.html

    I wanna see videos of some of these moves:
    Cross-Over Exit
    Cross-Over Take-down
    Powerslide Exit
    Push off Cross-Over
    Kickstand Exit
    Look over Drill

    And whatever they're doing here:
    http://www.leba.org/Fontana%202.jpg

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  • tonyt December 15, 2006 at 11:51 am

    I have a sort of off topic story that relates to how being on a bike is so different from being in a car.

    A friend of mine recently slipped on her stairs, back when we had that ice a few weeks ago and fractured one of her vertebrae (she'll be fine BTW).

    So she's laying on the ground, unable to get up, and time and time again cars drove by. It wasn't until a cyclist went by that she was seen. He stopped and helped her back into her house etc.

    It is said so often that I think people lose sight of the reality of how being on a bike connects you to what is happening around you. You are breathing the same air, hearing the same noises, as those folks walking down the sidewalk.

    Regarding bike cops chatting, I think having them present themselves in a friendly accessible way goes a long way to building the cop/regular folk relationships that we so sorely need in our neighborhoods. I'm convinced there is value in that.

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  • s December 15, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    isn't it illegal to ride on the sidewalk?

    funny, I know at least two messengers who've gotten tickets for doing what those officers are doing in the photos.

    perhaps they are posed though. perhaps not.

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  • Jonathan Maus December 15, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    s,

    It's only illegal to ride on the sidewalks downtown.

    That being said, the officers still get a lot of flack from passersby. In fact they warned me that people would say things under their breath as we passed.

    As someone who never rides on the sidewalk, it felt very awkward and wrong...but I think bike-cops feel it allows them the ability to check in and make eye contact with business owners more easily.

    I'd like to hear from Officer Pickett or perhaps another officer about this...guys..care to chime in here?

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  • adam December 15, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    can you define "downtown" for those of us who need education.

    and, who made that rule? what rule, specifically are you referring to. I see cops riding on the streets all the time. officer? care to tell me why you do that?

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  • Dabby December 15, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    These guys actually watched the "Stick Stop " Competition this summer. I caught a great shot of them laughing in the background as Scottie threw a whole christmas tree in front of his bike to stop.
    They watched, were very nice, then left.
    Of course we were worried about being shut down at that point, but the threat turned out to be non- existent.
    That being said, I applaud bike police programs.
    There used to be a problem with messenger harrasment during the Officer Friendly in the 90's, (Officer Friendly was a bike cop who had teddy bears on his handlebars that he gave out to kids), but other than that, I see no problems...In fact I see exactly the opposite, close hand, able enforcement.

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  • adam December 15, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    the cop who harASSed me, his name is michael cox. funny, he rode up on his bike before making me do his bidding for over an hour.

    what was my crime, exactly? maybe you can ask mark.

    oh, and cox is financed by PDC.

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  • J Price December 15, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    I understand there is a different level of policing for the bike patrol; pretty much necessitated by the machine itself - thank you Jonathan. It still seems that they could actually do something other than ride around while riding around. Maybe that is why there is little interest in joining - I think there is a level of thrill seeking that policeman/fireman and the like are looking for [unfortunate but likely true to a small level].

    As for riding on the sidewalk - they consider it in their official capacity, thus it's legal [plus ORS has provisions for riding slowly etc]. Kind of like the squad cars and motorcycles that park on the sidewalk outside a local bento and/or sub-shop shop so they can go get lunch; official capacity is their response [though, most everyone else gets a ticket].

    Thom:

    I have seen the training manual from the Seattle Police; my cousin was very involved in establishing bike patrols and most likely wrote the majority of it. He also lectured/trained departments all around the country. Many of those moves are very impressive indeed; the bike CAN be used as a weapon.

    PS Police are doing their job for the most part and it is a thankless job I doubt I could do.

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  • Burr December 15, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Cops - and security guards - on bikes are exempt from the ban on sidewalk riding downtown.

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  • Jonathan Maus December 15, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    I distinctly recall former Traffic Division Commander Bill Sinnott saying that cops were only allowed to ride on the sidewalk if/when they were in "active pursuit of a suspect."

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  • K December 15, 2006 at 4:49 pm

    I've yet to see a bike cop using the actual street to get around downtown.

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  • parker December 15, 2006 at 7:36 pm

    A reply to Sam about bike police shoes: in the photo it looks like Officer Pickett is using toeclips, which make sense for work that requires both biking and walking. I hear that PowerGrips are also popular with bike police. I'm not a police officer, but my current favorite bike shoes are Corcoran Bicycle/Mobile Police Oxfords ($62 plus shipping from shoeline.com). They are available in wide width, which I need. My review (my own experience) is on that website.

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  • Donna December 15, 2006 at 9:19 pm

    I think it would be fun to have the bike patrol demonstrate their skills at the next Multnomah County Bike Fair.

    I hope that Officer Pickett realizes when he's not questioning some of what the police have to do at times, he is very much contributing in a positive way. He does his job with compassion and respect in an imperfect world and an even more imperfect criminal justice & social service system. Without people like him, there would be nothing to feel positive about in that area, no hope at all. I also encounter great officers with the police CIT (crisis intervention team). It's nice to see in other departments.

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  • Ayala December 15, 2006 at 10:19 pm

    In regards to the question to define what constitutes downtown for riding on the sidewalks, I recently called the traffic bureau to get clarification on this after being verbally harassed by a pedestrian on 21st and Lovejoy for riding on the sidewalk. I didn't write down the name of the officer who called me back, but he advised me that downtown consists of the area between and including Front Avenue, SW Jefferson, NW Hoyt and 13th Avenue - more or less Fareless Square. The exception to this is if you're avoiding a road/traffic hazard in the immediate area. I believe that this is under the City of Portland's Title 16.

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  • Vladislav Davidzon December 15, 2006 at 10:33 pm

    Imagine for a second another Portland...

    Imagine a city where the majority of the police force has been forced out of their cars and stripped of their guns. When needed, rapid response weapons officers are available as backup on a minutes notice. This model seems outrageous, yet it has proven to work *great* in much of the UK...

    Forced to interact with people as people rather than bullies, officers receive far better intelligence that leads to drastically reduced petty crimes which used to plague the city... and police shootings become a relic of the past. Working together with newly established city-level social services, homeless population is quickly made non-existent. Police come to be seen as part of the community, rather than an occupying army.

    This is all possible, if only we get a mayor into office who actually wants to see real change... All we need is to get someone in the next election who actually gives a damn about this city, and who isn't afraid of change....

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  • rainperimeter December 16, 2006 at 1:59 am

    i met officer pickett on the esplanade one day as i was heading to work. hell of a nice guy.

    bike cops on the sidewalk downtown drive me nuts. get on the street. it's very "do as i say, not as i do" and that is one thing i can't handle.

    i would wholly endorse seeing more cops on bikes and less (everyone) in cars.

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  • Dabby December 16, 2006 at 2:38 am

    Years ago I was very slow rolling the sidewalk at 5th and Salmon, the very large sidewalk.
    Two Mt Bike Police rolled past me, on the sidewalk, then waited for me up on the corner to give me a ticket.
    They asked for my id, which I never got out, and prceeded to talk to me about it.
    I proceeded to leave very soon after. Luckily they didn't follow me, as they were not done with me.
    This was in like 1992. It was Officer Friendly.
    He was doing his job, I was doing mine.
    We were at a impasse. I had to go back to work, so I left...
    No disrespect, but it was ridiculous...

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  • Jeff December 16, 2006 at 10:33 am

    Here's the regulations that apply to bicycling on sidewalks in downtown Portland - see
    http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=28180
    for the complete Title 16 of the City Code. There are also State regs. regarding sidewalk riding in general.

    City of Portland Title 16 - Vehicles & Traffic

    16.70 Miscellaneous Regulations

    16.70.300 Bicycles

    16.70.320 Operating Rules

    No person may:
    .......

    E. ride a bicycle on a sidewalk, unless avoiding a traffic hazard in the immediate area, within the area bounded by and including SW Jefferson, Front Avenue, NW Hoyt and 13th Avenue, except:

    1. on sidewalks designated as bike lanes or paths;

    2. on the ramps or approaches to any Willamette River Bridge; or

    3. in the area from the west property line of SW Ninth Avenue, to the east property line of SW Park Avenue; from the property line of SW Jefferson to the south property line of SW Salmon Street; commonly known as the South Park Blocks.

    4. for police or special officers operating a bicycle in the course and scope of their duties; or

    5. for employees of the Association for Portland Progress and companies providing security services operating a bicycle in the course and scope of their duties. These employees must have in possession an identification card issued by the Chief of Police certifying the rider has completed a training course in the use of a bicycle for security patrol.

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  • Jeff December 16, 2006 at 10:33 am

    Here's the regulations that apply to bicycling on sidewalks in downtown Portland - see
    http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=28180
    for the complete Title 16 of the City Code. There are also State regs. regarding sidewalk riding in general.

    City of Portland Title 16 - Vehicles & Traffic

    16.70 Miscellaneous Regulations

    16.70.300 Bicycles

    16.70.320 Operating Rules

    No person may:
    .......

    E. ride a bicycle on a sidewalk, unless avoiding a traffic hazard in the immediate area, within the area bounded by and including SW Jefferson, Front Avenue, NW Hoyt and 13th Avenue, except:

    1. on sidewalks designated as bike lanes or paths;

    2. on the ramps or approaches to any Willamette River Bridge; or

    3. in the area from the west property line of SW Ninth Avenue, to the east property line of SW Park Avenue; from the property line of SW Jefferson to the south property line of SW Salmon Street; commonly known as the South Park Blocks.

    4. for police or special officers operating a bicycle in the course and scope of their duties; or

    5. for employees of the Association for Portland Progress and companies providing security services operating a bicycle in the course and scope of their duties. These employees must have in possession an identification card issued by the Chief of Police certifying the rider has completed a training course in the use of a bicycle for security patrol.

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  • Jim Bombardier December 16, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    The Big police bike advocacy organization is the International Police Mountain Bike Association...www.ipmba.org. There are some progessive police bike and ER in the country. And some of those IPMBA training sessions are very ridingly sophisticated

    I have offered to make my saddle available to Portland police but they just are not interested. I will have to settle at this time with having my saddle under half of the bike cops in San Antonio TX.

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  • adam December 16, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    is there a way for citizens to offer police and other city people who ride on downtown sidewalks any sort of educational material such as a citation/ticket?

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  • adam December 16, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    wow, I am impressed with the amount of constructive discussion here.

    "These employees must have in possession an identification card issued by the Chief of Police certifying the rider has completed a training course in the use of a bicycle for security patrol."

    is there a way that the safety training the cops get can be given to us lowly citizens? I gave rosie my cell number once but she has elected not to speak with me. not a good move, I know, but, if you can talk with Them, maybe they can offer us safety courses instead of whining about fixies and nudity.

    also, an advisory to all those who think that they run this city because they are part of the monied establishment - this is not your city. it is ours.

    please be respectful and watch how you treat us.

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  • josh m December 16, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    just a few things...

    Being unemployed and therefore spending a bit of time sitting on my ass in front of stumptown on my laptop waiting for happy hour, I see bike police riding ON 3rd ave all the time. So whoever claims they've yet to see bike police on the street, you need to just sit aorund a bit and you will see it.

    Whoever is complaining about bike police on the sidewalk. Think about it? Really... how fast are these officers riding? a little faster than walking speed. Now, if they were riding up Morrison, or down Yamhill at that speed on the road, do you think drivers would be happy about it? Not likely. It's not safe for bike officers or security officers to ride on the street while patroling and slow speeds, this puts them in danger and interfers w/ the flow of traffic. Please, common sense people.

    About stripping officers of their guns like in the UK. The UK has pretty tight gun control, I believe. The only thing people have are hunting rifles... I could be mistaken. Anyway, this is quite different than the situation here.

    I've had no problems w/ bike officers other than when I've been riding on the sidewalk because I was too lazy to circle the block or get off and walk. Big deal. I got over it, you should too.

    Breaking news, kids.
    the man isn't out to get you.

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  • PoPo December 16, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    Hey cool article, Jonathan. I appreciate your invariably critical, but open-minded, even-handed reporting.

    Answers to questions:

    Most of us who regularly ride on duty use toe clips. They are what we train with, and we need to be able to get in and out of pedals quickly. A couple of my partners who have biked a lot off-duty with clipless pedals are trying clipless pedals on duty as they have more confidence about getting out of them easily. I think maybe the jury is still out for them on how comforable they are and how safe they feel.

    I wear Cannondale Roam Mtn bike shoes, with the clips covered up. They have decent treads for walking and have a stiff sole for biking.

    The list of dismounts mentioned above are all things that we learn during the 40-hour Police Bike training course. They are mostly various ways to get off the bike very quickly in order to be able to deal with unexpected threats. They might sound cool, but probably wouldn't be all that impressive to experienced riders. I'm actually a police bicycle instructor, and teach other officers how to do these. The first thing we learn, though, is how to fall without breaking a limb--keep all arms and legs tucked in and just roll with the bike, usually ending up on your back with the bike suspended above--some of you may have seen me do this on the street as I typically have some sort of embarrasing moment at least once a week. Yeah, it would be fun to show these at a biking event!

    The biking on the sidewalk question is a good and very valid one that I've been meaning to mention, but will have to do that tomorrow, as I've gotta watch our VHS tape of Friday's episode of Battlestar Galactica before I go to bed tonight. If you haven't seen the remake series that the SCI-Fi channel is producing, I'd highly recommend it!

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  • adam December 17, 2006 at 9:34 am

    well, I am out to get some people. and, I don't mind that cops bike on the sidewalk, because, as noted, they are trained, respectful(sometimes) nice(some) and capable(most) of doing a good job.

    I agree - sitting around downtown will teach you alot. get out of your law firm office and your patrol cars and start treating "suspects" with some "respect".

    thanks.

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  • RQ December 17, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    Just to answer the question about pedals and sidewalks.

    Most of the officers patrolling ride with toe clips and a couple ride with flat pedals. I ride clipless (mountain bike shoes) which provide more efficiency while riding. However, they are more difficult to "get out of" quickly and at times can pose problems. To help mitigate this problem, I have loosened my pedals significantly; as opposed to the way I ride on my personal bike.

    In regards to the sidewalk issue, the business owners of the areas which we patrol prefer us riding on the sidewalk due to the "up close and personal" nature of this type of riding. We ride extremely slowly on the sidewalks as Jonathan can attest to. Naturally, there are those who don't want us there, but there are probably more who would have problems with us riding on the streets in a similar manner.

    Jonathan thanks for the article. We have received excellent support for the continuance of the SE Bike Patrol.

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  • Dabby December 18, 2006 at 12:14 am

    The business owners of call bike messengers also expect them to get there in a timely mannner, which involves riding on the sidewalks also, for the business owners have called us to come do buisness in the block.
    We ride safely on the sidewalks too.
    So, what is the difference?

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  • PoPo December 19, 2006 at 11:47 am

    A couple people asked how to support more bicycle patrols for the police bureau.

    While I think the mayor and police command staff understand the benefits of bicycle patrols and would like to see more of them, they are also constrained by the fact that a two-officer bicycle patrol costs a lot more money (mostly in the form of officer salaries) and can only cover a much smaller area than one officer in a patrol car, which is how the majority of Portland police officers are deployed.

    A bicycle patrol takes personnel away from the pool of officers available to answer 911 calls, making it more difficult to accomplish what most of us would probably consider the most basic of police functions--respond when we call for help. (Bike officers do respond to emergency calls, but only when a call happens to come out within reasonable biking distance from the patrol, which isn't that often.)

    Thus while police bicycle patrols have many positive aspects, they take away resources from other police funcitons.

    Allocation of limited resources is a challenge that faces our leaders constantly. But we can make it easier for them by letting them know what we would prefer. Then when someone challenges them about their additional money to fund increased bicycle patrols they can simply point to dozens, or hundreds, of e-mails or letters asking for it and say that bicycle police are something our community is asking for.

    I would suggest writing letters to your local precinct commander asking about the posibility of creating a patrol if they don't have one already, or supporting the continuation of one already in place. (Southeast and Central Precincts already have them.)

    More importantly, send messages to your city council person, the mayor and the chief suggesting more money be allocated for police bicycle patrols. The next budget cycle is close at hand, actually, so any input they receive in the coming weeks will be quite timely. There is no doubt that positive citizen response played a large part in getting the Southeast bike patrol going.

    You can find e-mail and snail-mail addresses for city officials at http://www.portlandonline.com. Here are a couple particularly good ones:

    chiefsizer@portlandpolice.org
    mayorpotter@ci.portland.or.us

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  • tom December 20, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    Police have a special dispensation from the city council to ride on the sidewalks downtown ie the river to twelfth ave. and Burnisde to columbia? Not sure about the southern border. In the rest of the city it is legal for everyone if one rides no faster than the pedestrian flow, and gives an audible signal when overtaking others. Simple eh? Consideration goes a long way.

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  • [...] or a lumbering automobile. This is one reason bikes have historically played a role in military and police operations. (Keep an eye on the Swiss -- they've obviously got something up their [...]

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