Taking it to the street
By Howdy Stout, Tinker Public Affairs
/ Published June 05, 2009
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- You would think riding a bicycle is easy.
Not the way law enforcement does it.
Oklahoma County Sheriff Department's deputies and the 72nd Security Forces Squadron Operations Flight put Tinker's Security Forces through their paces last week in an intense, two-day training session to teach them the basics of law enforcement patrolling by bicycle and community policing. Last used in 2006, Tinker's Security Forces will begin regular bicycle patrols with a 16-member team as part of their summer patrol against crime effort.
"Training is one of the biggest things," explained Deputy Chris Chancellor, assistant team leader of the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department bicycle patrol. "Learning to ride police style is quite a bit different."
"It's interesting," said Staff Sgt. Ezra Atkins, 72nd SFS, who admitted to being a bit sore after learning to take his bike up and down stairs and jump curbs in a single bound.
"That's what training is all about," explained Master Sgt. Brenda Billings of the 72nd SFS, who oversaw portions of last week's training. "Using the bike, looking out for dangers."
Sergeant Billings, a former bicycle patrol member at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., said bicycle patrols are not only more flexible than vehicle patrols but allow more personal contact between security forces and those on base.
"It's good public relations, getting out to meet people, talking to kids," she said. "You find out things in the community that's going on when you're not in a patrol vehicle. Bikes can obviously go places a vehicle can't go. That's another plus with bicycles."
"We can go in more areas," agreed Dept. Chancellor. "It's less restrictive."
Although Tinker will only use the bicycle patrol during good weather this summer, Dept. Chancellor says the county sheriff's department uses them year round for patrols in urban areas such as Bricktown, where their unobtrusiveness and silence are used to advantage.
"We're stealthy," he explained. "People don't hear us coming. We can sneak up on a situation and catch them right in the act."
Bicycles are also effective at crowd control and policing large public gatherings. Not only do the bicycles allow police to cover a larger area, they are effective at moving the crowds themselves. By standing the bicycle on its rear wheel, Dept. Chancellor said, it doubles as a riot shield.
"The bicycles are great for crowd control and riot control," he said. "Once they get a pedal in the shin, they're ready to back off."
But bicycle patrols have their hazards. Part of the training involved learning how to chase suspects up and over obstacles - including stairs and curbs - and how to stop motor vehicle traffic. Learning how to dismount in an emergency by sliding and coming up into a firing position is also part of the training.
"There's a lot of dismounting," Dept. Chancellor said. "It's handling the bicycle in different terrains." The bicycle patrols can expect to ride several miles a day, not counting any high-speed chases they might encounter. "It takes a lot of endurance," Dept. Chancellor said. "You really have to be in shape."
As part of Security Forces normal base patrols, the bicycle patrols will center on base housing the dormitory areas, and special events in an effort to "increase situational awareness" said Capt Prausa, 72 SFS Operations Officer. "By placing the same SF members in the same patrol zones day-after-day, the bike patrols provide a force multiplier for us, in that they present a familiar face to the citizens we serve and protect, and give us an increased ability to detect when the environment has changed" he said.