The Saugerties Police Department is ramping up its patrols this summer to include officers on bicycles. A village bicycle patrol dissolved in 2011 after the merger of the village and town police.
Clad in shorts and helmets, cops on bicycles may seem to be less intimidating than officers strapped into police cars, but apparently that is considered one of the advantages of bike patrols. After watching officers train, learning to quickly navigate stairs and apprehend violent individuals on two wheels, a bystander may rethink their preconceptions.
Police Chief Joe Sinagra says that we can expect to see officers on bikes cruising around the village and navigating around crowds at high-traffic events like the Garlic Festival and the Sawyer Motors Car Show. He touted the program for a number of reasons: these officers are more approachable and more environmentally friendly than an officer in a squad car, stealthier and faster than an officer on foot and able to weave through congested traffic and crowds.
“It’s more community-oriented policing efforts,” said Sinagra of the decision to bring back the program. “It’s a better outreach to the public. Rather than having an officer in the car driving up and down partition street, now they’re actually out there so they can hear. It makes all of their senses available to them — smell, sight. I like the stealthiness to it, it will give us thportunity to roll up on things undetected. I just think it’s going to be an asset to our community and it’s an enhancement of our policing efforts. It will be easier for them to interact with the community members.”
Five officers on the Saugerties Police Force already have formal Law Enforcement Bicycle Association training. Saugerties Detective Erik Thiele ran, or rode, through 44 hours of training with Lieutenant Ken Swart and Woodstock officers Gabriella Lalima and Tiffany McLoughlin, who will be partnered up on a bicycle patrol with their town’s preexistent bicycle patrol — the four practiced a block of tactical bike maneuvers on a swatch of grass beside the Cantine Field Skate Park on June 6 before patrolling on their bikes in the village of Saugerties into the evening.
While the officers peppered their training with a healthy dose of humor. One officer yelled “I will aluminate you!” as he practiced a maneuver in which the officer’s aluminum bicycle is rolled at an oncoming attacker in an attempt to get the perp to drop their weapon to grab the fast-approaching bike. Many of the practice routines were grueling: dismounting, lifting and running with a bike in one fluid motion; trapping prospective villains between two officers using a “sandwich,” which one officer “power-glides” in front of a fleeing perpetrator while the other positions themselves behind; riding down stairs by locking their feet at 3 and 9’oclock positions.
“I knew we’d do stairs, I just thought I’d bust my face open — I’m not a fan of them, but really it’s just like a bumpy hill,” said McLoughlin, who elected to take the voluntary training because she “[didn’t] like being stuck in [a] car.”
Most of the officers’ training is centered around the idea of vulnerability — perched atop a bicycle, an officer is much more exposed than they would be sequestered in a police car. A cardinal rule of bike-patrolling is to never talk to anyone without dismounting your bicycle. Otherwise, standing abreast the bike with a leg on either side, an assailant could grab the bike and thrust it into an officer’s exposed genitals. In many of the practice maneuvers, the bike acts as a shield: typically, an officer dismounts away from a suspect and uses their bicycle as a barrier. It can even be used as a weapon — reminiscent of a rearing horse, officers practiced pulling up their bicycles to present a would-be attacker with the vessel’s front wheel, careful not to brake the bicycle so that the wheel can’t be firmly grasped by the assailant to get an upper hand.
“Why not?” said Swart of his decision to get certified. “ [It gets] you out with the public — you can’t talk to them driving by,” he said.
Components of the training deal with, among other things, bicycle gun safety (“you shouldn’t shoot anything while moving”), first aid strategies for common bike-involved injuries and a lesson on maintaining a bicycle,
During their culminating bike patrol, the convoy of bike officers received a call at approximately 8:20 p.m. reporting a phone stolen from a patron at the Partition Bar and Grill; the officers all toed-out their kickstands on their bicycles and watched the bar’s security footage on a television typically reserved for sports programming to attempt to spot the thief with their helmets in their hands as patrons looked on.
“Since when did we have so many police bikes,” exclaimed one patron at the bar. “Holy moly, I didn’t know we had so many bike officers.”
Typically, when police cars pull up to a bar, patrons hoof it. In this instance, though, they chatted with the officers, watched footage alongside them, and carried on with their meals and conversations. Ultimately, the patron had just misplaced the phone, and the officers peeled out of the open-air establishment, but the instance illustrated Sinagra’s point — without the flashing lights, the high speeds and roll-up car windows, officers are closer to the ground, more approachable and just a little more like the rest of us.