Where do you go for cover if you're a police officer cruising on bike patrol when a gun goes "pop, pop, pop" behind your back?
"There is no cover or concealment behind those spokes," said Logan police officer Steve Labrum. "I was caught by surprise."Fortunately for Labrum, 25, the "pop, pop, pop" behind him came from a paintball gun. The shooting was part of an exercise in a training class for bicycle patrol officers, from across the state, held in South Salt Lake.
The class is one of four offered across the state annually to Utah law enforcement agencies that either introduce new officers to bike patrol skills or enhance the skills of veteran bike cops. Twenty-seven officers from 12 Utah police departments participated in the four-day class in May.
Sponsored by the South Salt Lake Police Department, the class was taught by officers from that depart-ment, Park City Police and Moab Police, all of whom are accredited teachers with the International Police Mountain Bike Association.
And there's a lot more to it than just riding a bike.
"It was a lot more informative than I thought it would be," Labrum said. "You have to figure out how to deal with the bike. It's not like just pulling up and getting out your patrol car."
And then there are the issues of maneuvering over curbs, around cars and through crowds of people - all things that make bike patrol an effective law enforcement tool, but those things also complicate the job because the safety of the public and the officer have to be considered.
Over the four-day class, officers spent time in the classroom watching videos and talking about safety, traffic laws, physical fitness and nutrition. Time on their bikes doing drills with traffic cones and over obstacle courses, simulating real-life situations and riding off-road along the Jordan River Parkway. One day was spent at the shooting range working on firearms training.
"A lot of people think they can just be a police officer, jump on their bike and do their job," said South Salt Lake police officer Damon Byington, who organized the class. "We try to teach them the ways to be effective cyclists and effective officers while minimizing the (risks) to themselves, the public and their departments."
Bicycle patrols first became popular in the early 1980s and continue to grow in popularity with departments because of their effectiveness, said Jennifer Horan of the International Police Mountain Bike Association. An estimated 2,000 departments nationwide utilize bike patrols, and they put an estimated 10,000 officers out on the street on two wheels.
Bike patrols are effective for two reasons, said instructor Mike Johnston of the Park City Police.
"There's the stealth part of it. On a bike you can come up on a lot of stuff you don't see from a car. People also don't expect to see a police officer, because they see the bike first, and it distracts them from the uniform," Johnston said.
Most departments that use bike patrols say their officers make a high number of narcotics arrests.
"It's also a good community policing tool. You're much more approachable on the bike. People will talk to you," he said. "Usually they want to find out about your bike. And the young kids see it as a cool job."
They aren't the only ones. Labrum loves his job, loves to mountain bike and loves the fact that since taking the course, he'll be able to combine them.
"It's pretty neat. But it's a whole different ball game," said the officer, who has been a recreational mountain biker for several years. "And I think I'll be able to apply a lot of what I learned to everyday patrol work in my car as well."