CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories
By Michaela Gibson Morris
The Tupelo Police Department has added pedal power to its community policing efforts.
Mayor Glen McCullough and Police Chief Ron Smith formally rolled out the city's four-officer bicycle patrol team Tuesday morning at The Mall at Barnes Crossing.
The creation of the bike patrol is another facet of the community policing program that the city has been building, Smith and McCullough said.
"It's just an extension of getting police officers and the community closer together and sharing responsibility for a safer city," Smith said.
Much of the Tupelo community will get its first introduction to the bike patrol at the mall, where officers will be focusing much of their energy during the holiday season.
"We felt like this is a natural place to begin," McCullough said.
Parking lot patrol
Officers pedaling through the parking lot will be on the lookout for local grinches who would steal Christmas from shoppers' vehicles. The bike police also will keep an eye peeled for fleeing shoplifters.
"For any retail community in Tupelo, I think it's a huge asset because of deterrence," mall manager Jeff Snyder said.
The bike team's activities will not be limited to the mall or other retail centers. They will be patrolling the downtown business district, neighborhoods and assisting with parades and special events at the coliseum, Smith said.
In their first official day on patrol Monday, the team seized 17 rocks of crack cocaine and made five drug-related arrests.
"So far, it's been really great," said Maj. Larry Presley, who heads the patrol division that includes the new bike unit.
Although they'll be spending a lot of time on problem areas, the bike patrol isn't assigned strictly to any one area, Team Leader Marty Mask said.
"We'll try it hit all the neighborhoods," Mask said.
Because the officers on bikes are easier to approach, a large part of the patrol duties will include talking to people in the neighborhoods, the officers said.
"In a neighborhood, you can build a rapport with the community," said Michael Olive, the team's training officer who was a member of the Gulfport Police Department bike patrol for two years.
Not just any 10-speed
The bicycles the team officers have traded for their police cruisers aren't ordinary 10-speeds.
The all-terrain mountain bikes the team uses are specially designed for police work with a heavier frame and extra shocks to withstand urban hazards like stairs and curbs, said officer Gary Boyle, who will serve as the team's public relations officer.
The bikes also are equipped with flashing blue lights and a chirpy siren to warn pedestrians, rather than drivers, of their approach.
The team rode about 120 miles last week as part of an intense training session to get ready for full-time bike patrol, Olive said. They worked felony arrest techniques with the bikes, negotiated stairs and off-road obstacles, built up their endurance and practiced community policing work.
All the bike patrol team officers said they're looking forward to opportunities to interact more with the public.
For officer Chris Patterson, the team's equipment manager, the duty offers a chance to bring his hobby, cycling, with him to work.
"Why not take something you love and do it professionally?" Patterson said.
People inside and outside the police department have been instrumental in bringing the bike patrol into existence, Mask said. Two of the bikes were paid for by the Tupelo Housing Authority.
Capt. Phil Goldsmith, who oversees the training center, initially proposed the bike patrol team a few years ago and was a central part of its organization along with the chief and other department administrators, Olive said.