Salt Lake police are taking to the streets on bicycles in a program that organizers say will increase visibility and cut down on street crime.
The Utah officers are borrowing from an idea implemented in Seattle, which borrowed the concept from California, said Sgt. Don Campbell, who oversees the department's foot patrol division."It's the same reason foot patrol is effective downtown. Car officers have a hard time getting downtown," said Campbell. "With bikes, they're silent, they're quick, you get around the territory more and the crooks don't expect them."
Seattle officers found they were able to ride up to drug dealers pushing their wares on the streets. The two Washington officers who initiated the program made 500 arrests the first month, said Campbell.
While the logistics are still being worked out, the sergeant said he hopes to have officers on bikes making the rounds in April. The bike police will be full-time foot patrol officers on regular duty.
Campbell said he has selected "young, athletic very well-motivated officers and they're extremely enthusiastic about it."
The department is working with a bicycle manufacturer and some local merchants to supply the bikes and gear. Officers will wear dark-colored athletic shoes, socks, hiking shorts, regulation shirts, gun belts and badges. Officers also will wear protective head and eye gear and gloves.
One policeman interested in the program has already bowed out, citing skinny legs, Campbell said.
Officers will be able to make a dent in car prowl reports and sneak up on car burglars, he said. Making a swing of a parking terrace is easier and less noticeable on a bicycle.
"We don't see it as a traffic enforcement program. It's really specific to anti-crime."
And then there is the public relations aspect.
"We deal with an awful lot of youth, and we think it would be a great advantage to see officers in a more positive light" on bicycles, the same as teenagers, he said.
"With this its high visibility, the tourists love it. It's high visibility for crooks, they don't love it. A crook would have to worry about everybody on a bike downtown."
California officers began patrolling the beaches on bikes, and now Hollywood, Calif., Seattle and Raleigh, N.C., are using the program.
"It fits for the downtown patrol," said Campbell. "It's great for the areas that have derelict problems (and) it's great for those problem areas where they have a lot of street dealings."