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Hagerstown cops psyched for bikes

March 29, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Faster than feet and more maneuverable than a patrol car, mountain bikes have become a successful crime-fighting tool for the Hagerstown City Police Department.

Hagerstown started its bike patrol program in April 1997 with four bikes and riders, said bike trainer Sgt. Curt Wood.

The department now has 30 riders and 10 bikes, he said.

"They are very effective. We can cut through alleys and yards and even beat a car," he said.

Since a bike is less conspicuous than a police cruiser, officers can slip into an area unnoticed when necessary, he said. Officers use the bikes to patrol neighborhoods, interview witnesses and suspects and make arrests.

A backup police cruiser is called to transport people, he said.

Hagerstown saves money in gas and wear on its patrol cars when officers ride bikes, he said.

"They're good for getting into hard-to-reach areas to apprehend suspects," said Patrolman Dwayne Freeman, who is a member of the Street Crimes Unit and a certified rider.

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The police department uses $1,200 Trek mountain bikes, which are designed to move and brake quietly. The heavy-duty bikes weigh about 25 pounds and added to that are about 10 pounds of other supplies such as bike tools, notebooks and first aid equipment stored in a black bag behind the seat.

Bike officers are required to wear bulletproof vests, guns, ammunition and radios.

Each cyclist must complete three days of training to be certified. The first two days in the classroom focus on practical skills including serpentine cone drills, stopping techniques, ways to use the bike as a shield and to apprehend someone, Wood said.

Officers also learn to ride down steps and travel throughout the city learning the streets from a cyclist's perspective, he said.

The third day features a grueling 30-mile ride to the Smithsburg Reservoir where officers practice shooting at the police driving range.

"They can ride the whole way or they can stop and push the bike - but they have to keep going," said Wood.

Many of the riders, including Wood, hadn't ridden a bike in years before they signed up for training.

"It all comes back. It's true you never forget how to ride a bike," said Wood.

The bike patrol officers are clad in black and yellow jackets as a safety measure when riding in traffic.

"They call us the bumblebees," he said of residents in the HotSpots area.

Wood received his bike training in 1997 from the Martinsburg City (W.Va.) Police Department, he said. Hagerstown's other bike patrol trainers are Patrolmen Jimmy Hurd and Marty Pitsnogle.

The bike patrol is gaining popularity among the officers because of the physical benefits of riding, the variety it provides and for the sheer fun of riding, he said.

Patrolman Tim Rossitor said he decided to become a certified bike patrol officer because it offers greater mobility. The bike is quicker while allowing him to be visible to pedestrians.

"It's more personal than a patrol car," he said

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