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Release: Immediate

Bike patrol officers serve as college ambassadors on wheels

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa department of public safety has a new bike patrol unit that not only enforces laws and regulations, but also serves as ambassadors for the university.

The bike patrol was formed to not only patrol where cars can't go -- such as sidewalks and lawns, but as a way to promote greater contact with the public.

The six-person unit began operation during the first week of school in August, assisting students during the dorm move-in period and handing out information about being safe on campus and precautions about theft prevention.

Students liked the presence of the bike patrol. "The officers were helpful, and this is a good idea as it will allow the officer to have more contact with people," said student Kimberly Hepler who was moving into Mayflower Hall.

The bike patrol can do just about anything a patrol car officer can, except transport suspects to jail. They are flexible in their duties, and have the option to patrol on bikes or in their cars, depending on the nature of their assignment for the day.

"Having the bike unit takes down that steel wall between an officer in a patrol car and the public. People see the bicycles and are curious -- they are willing to talk to the officers," said Chuck Green, director of public safety.

On a routine basis, students and others ask bike officers for directions, while faculty and staff contact the unit for unlocking rooms, responding to alarms, and receiving found property. Other duties include responding to traffic accidents, enforcing liquor and drug laws, taking theft reports, and taking suspicious person reports.

Bicycles can go where squad cars can't, such as sidewalks along the Iowa River and courtyards near dorms, according to Sgt. Mike Hanks, unit leader for the bike patrol. The unit emphasizes safety education for bike riders on trails and streets, but will not hesitate to cite reckless riders.

At any one time, there may be two to four officers on bike patrol, with the most assigned during football games and other large events. They work all shifts, except from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., but Green hopes to expand the unit to include this period.

Bike patrol officers include Hanks, Sgt. Cindy Heick, and officers Joe Lang, Ross Stuckey, Brian Meyer and Brad Allison.

The group had to apply for and make a two-year commitment to the unit. They received certification through the International Police Mountain Bike Association after four days of training at the East Moline, Ill. police department.

There is now a waiting list of public safety officers who want to join the unit. This program has boosted officer morale by offering incentives for new training and experience, according to Green.

"The bike training helps the enthusiasm level here. After the training in East Moline, our bike officers were pumped up and ready to ride," he said.

Prior to training, the UI officers must have been in good physical condition and have ample experience on a bicycle. During their training they learned how to handle their bicycles in traffic, make traffic stops, and pursue suspects who flee on foot. Training exercises included riding up and down steps, jumping over objects (three wood pallets were used as sample obstacles), and making a sliding stop to dismount the bike quickly.

Green said each officer rides a $650 Trek bike, outfitted with $250 of equipment, including lights, speedometer, mileage counter, helmets, a special fender, and an equipment bag containing a repair kit and first aid kit.

The officers wear uniforms that allow flexibility and comfort; shirts are made from breathable Supplex nylon and the bike shorts are padded. They wear sunglasses for eye protection and a modified equipment belt that includes a collapsible baton, pepper spray, handcuffs, a mini flashlight and other items.

The officers enjoy working in the unit and like the variety and flexibility of working on a bike.

"We can meet people face-to-face, instead of meeting in the car," said Sgt. Hanks. "I hope the Bike Patrol will continue to enhance our contacts with faculty, staff and students."