"It is just win-win," said Wayne Cleveland, who launched a bike patrol shortly after becoming chief of the Martinsburg Police Department 18 months ago. "Bikes are an extremely effective law enforcement tool for all kinds of crime - even the most serious kinds of crime."
Cleveland, who first saw police bicycles in action when he worked for the Montgomery County (Md.) Police Department, said the bikes are durable enough to carry officers over almost any terrain. He said the bikes can go where squad cars can't, places like alleys and down steps.
Cleveland said he believes Martinsburg soon will expand its bike patrol, which currently consists of nine officers and six bikes.
In addition to building close ties with the community, Cleveland said bikes enable officers to respond more quickly than they could on foot, and allow them to approach more quietly than do squad cars.
Hagerstown Police Chief Dale Jones said the city bought the bikes for about $800 each. Jones said the department must design new uniforms for the officers who will be pedaling the bicycles.
Jones said he anticipates the bikes will be in use whenever weather permits.
"The bikes will probably replace most of the foot patrol and some of the car patrol as well," he said.
Kline said there will still be a need for officers to walk around and talk to people, especially in densely populated neighborhoods. And she said bicycles are poor substitutes for cruisers in cases in which large distances must be covered quickly.
Kline said bikes are environmentally and community friendly.
"The biggest thing is going to be visibility and making you closer to the people you're serving," she said. "A car can make you removed from that personal contact."
Added Martinsburg's Cleveland: "It gives people a warm, fuzzy feeling when they see an officer ride down the street on a bicycle. I don't know why, but it's true."
The International Police Mountain Bike Association in Baltimore said there has been a "pretty much explosive" growth in bicycle patrols since Seattle put the first one on the streets in 1988.
Jennifer Horan, director of the organization, said membership has grown from 64 officers to more than 2,000 since 1994.
She said the group's board of directors estimates bikes are in use in more than 3,000 police agencies both large and small throughout the country.