At the speed of crime’: Officers patrol on a different set of wheels
They cruise the streets of Aiken on two wheels, but they have the same authority and duties as their colleagues on four wheels.
Aiken Public Safety bike patrol officers can be seen pedaling through a variety of neighborhoods, from Crosland Park to downtown.
Lt. Karl Odenthal, who is in charge of the bike patrols, said the agency has had the patrols “in one form or another” since 1994.
As the administrations have changed, so has the program, he said. This included expanding some patrol zones, some of which weren’t conducive for bike riding.
“It ended up going a different route, where they weren’t riding as much,” Odenthal said, adding that the program decreased in presence over the years. “We’re not where we were, but we’re gearing up back to more bike patrols.”
The officers on bike patrol have additional responsibilities now.
“Earlier in its inception, we had guys assigned to specific neighborhoods, and their primary way of getting around was the bike,” Odenthal said. “Now we do other things in addition to that.”
Bike patrol officers may handle traffic enforcement, complete extraditions or work parades. Odenthal said it’s up to an individual officer to choose how he patrols his assigned area, whether it’s on foot, on bicycle or in a car.
Officers go on bike patrols throughout the year, but again, it depends on an individual officer and whether he prefers to ride in cold weather or hot weather. Officers on bike patrol at night typically ride in pairs, Odenthal said.
If an officer is pursuing a suspect, seconds count, and an officer can’t afford to take his eyes off a suspect while he stops the bike and puts the kick stand down, Odenthal said.
The bikes are designed so that an officer can put the kick stand down and walk away from the bike without having to look down. Some bikes have a special mechanism that quiets the “ticking” sound a bike makes when it’s coasting, giving an officer “more stealth” if they’re trying to approach a suspect undetected, Odenthal said.
An officer must go through a class and earn a certification before he can ride alone, but he can ride with an experienced officer without taking the class.
A bike officer logs about 15 miles during an average patrol, Odenthal said.
“We ride, I call it, at the speed of crime, and that’s generally really slow. You’re riding, you’re taking in the sights, the sounds, the smells,” he said. “You’re riding with a different purpose. You’re stopping and talking to people. I’ve smelled marijuana before I’ve seen it when I’m riding my bike. I can ride up on it, smell it and say, ‘Somebody around here is smoking dope.’ Then you ride around and find them.”
In addition to bikes being able to go places that cars can’t, bike patrols also offer the opportunity to exchange information between residents and law enforcement.
“It’s so much easier to interact with people when you’re on a bicycle,” Odenthal said. “You don’t have to roll down a window, you don’t have to stop a car. You just ride up to where they are and have a conversation with them.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since 2012.