OREM — The Orem Department of Public Safety has a new tool in its fight against crime along the Provo River Trail in Provo Canyon: bicycles.
The new bike patrol squad consists of five officers equipped with a locally made Fezzari mountain bike.
"You see the city from a different perspective," said police officer Michael Paraskeva. "You can sneak up on criminals, catch them in the act of crimes. You're also able to prevent crimes from occurring."
The squad was created thanks in part to a significant donation from someone who doesn't live in Orem. He is a friend of the woman who was brutally attacked on the Provo River Trail two years ago. On June 9, 2010, Shawn Leonard brutally raped a 19-year-old UVU student and left her for dead. He strangled her and smashed her face with a rock and cement cinder block.
The donor wanted the trail to be a place for families to enjoy and feel safe. Orem police had looked into creating a bike squad, but didn’t have the funds for it — until now.
"He offered to donate money to get this going and donated enough money that it's a very minimal cost to us," said Orem Police Sgt. Craig Martinez. The donation covered the bikes, helmets and uniforms.
The trail not only has a reputation for violent assaults, but also drug use and vandalism — crimes the bike patrol aims to stop.
"Most of us are runners, and so we run the trail," said police officer Chris Watson. "We know the areas of the trail, so we can call out markers or special identifiers we're familiar with."
Officers also spend their time on the trail educating users to avoid being reckless and putting others in danger. "Ride safely, ride in control and keep it slow," Cpl. James Vance tells people along the trail.
The squad is providing more peace of mind for people who enjoy using this popular and scenic, recreational trail.
"They're starting to see us more and more," said police officer Nathan Newell. "They are quite enthusiastic about it. They're very appreciative. They're constantly thanking us."
The officers are assigned to their regular shift. They are still taking calls and doing their regular patrol duties, but then they get on their bikes when they have time and patrol the trail and other city parks.
"We'll jump on the bike, ride for about an hour, and then jump back in our car and go someplace else," Vance said.
The bikes are already proving to be successful, not only on the trail but around town. Just last week, one of the officers patrolling an apartment complex stopped several teenagers involved in underage drinking.