By Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw
One of the best ways to solve crime and prevent it from happening is to do proactive policing in our communities. So my deputies are increasingly using bicycles to get to know residents and understand their issues. It’s remarkable what they are accomplishing — simply by getting out of their cars and riding through neighborhoods.
The Sheriff’s Office Bicycle Operations Unit has 402 deputies and volunteers riding across Palm Beach County, from rural Glades areas to urban core districts outside of West Palm Beach and Boca Raton.
My agency has the nation’s second largest police bicycle unit, behind the New York Police Department (600 bicycle officers) and ahead of the Los Angeles Police Department (310 bicycle officers).
My commanders and I have made bicycle patrols a major priority. We use them not only for our daily community policing operations, but also for our missing children and senior citizens investigations and our tactical and narcotics work. We also use bicycle teams for crowd control and to showcase the Sheriff’s Office during parades and other community events.
Putting a deputy on a bicycle has many significant advantages. For one thing, it makes the deputy more approachable to the public because there’s no car door or windows to form a barrier. That allows for more informal interaction and a way to build relationships with residents. A bicycle also has access to areas that a patrol car cannot enter, such as side yards, alleys and canal trails. Deputies on bicycles are less obtrusive and more low-key than a patrol car, allowing them to approach a situation without being observed.
Our bicycle patrols have cracked many criminal activities. One that stands out was a case when deputies on bicycles patrolled a warehouse district in Lake Worth. They smelled marijuana coming from a building, so they alerted our narcotics squad. After we obtained a search warrant, my deputies seized a large amount of marijuana from the building.
To be certified law enforcement bicycle riders, deputies must complete a rigorous, five-day training session where they receive specialized instruction. From riding up and down stairways to patrolling on sand to dismounting in emergencies, deputies must master a vast array of maneuvers on a mountain bicycle. At the Sheriff’s Office, 1,200 out of a total of 1,600 road patrol deputies have obtained bicycle certification.
Our bicycle unit dates back to the mid-1990s, although some deputies were riding bicycles before then.
By the mid-2000s, the unit grew in size and reputation. Today, it has a 24-hour, 365-day capability. The deputies ride in most weather conditions. Their bicycles are equipped with bright lights and can be ridden at night. Our deputies generally ride with assigned partners in groups of two, which allows them to patrol almost anywhere.
The next time you see our bicycle patrols, say hello and let them know how they can help improve public safety in your community.