Image
Police officers Nick Alden and Adam Leland are today’s equivalent of the cop on the beat who used to walk the neighborhood. The purpose of Lebanon’s Mountain Bike Patrol Unit is to assist the police department in bridging the gap between foot and vehicular patrols. Bicycles provide efficient coverage of particular areas, while at the same time assisting in community-oriented policing. 

Assignment to the mountain bike unit is strictly voluntary. Officers must complete a rigorous training course and be physical capable of performing extended duties on a bicycle; they must especially possess good public relations skills. Officers Alden and Leland received training at the Vermont State Police Academy. Their training program included riding a bike for twenty to thirty miles a day, running with the bike, peddling up a steep hill before disembarking to fire a weapon at randomly placed targets, and undergoing a stress test. The training included the ability to anticipate special circumstances, such as making sure that after pedaling across town in response to an emergency call the officer has kept enough energy in reserve to handle whatever situation he might end up facing.

The Lebanon Police Department currently has four trained officers who have bikes mounted on their units when on patrol. Due to the geographical layout of Lebanon, the bike is carried on a vehicle bike rack and taken to the area where it will be utilized. The defined areas that officers ride their bikes in are downtown Lebanon (Cityside) and West Lebanon Village, including neighborhood side streets. The Cityside patrol area includes neighborhoods as far out as the high school; the West Lebanon patrol area includes all of Rt. 12-A. Bike patrol officers have seen the consumption of gas for their patrol cars be dramatically reduced. As the seasons change, officers ride their bikes when weather permits, usually into the late fall.

By meeting citizens face to face, especially young students, bike patrol officers develop very positive relationships. People will talk informally with them, and officers get to know the community much better. Members of the Mountain Bike Patrol Unit have worked with students in programs throughout the school system, handing out information on bicycle safety, sometimes giving out free helmets where warranted. The law requires bicycle riders under sixteen to wear helmets. Omer and Bob’s has been supportive of the program and has collaborated with the officers for repair workshops and bicycle registration. The department has acquired a number of promotional trinkets (removable tattoos, stickers, and even trading cards similar to baseball cards) that they distribute to younger kids to create rapport. The bottom line: kids are happy to see them. Every year the department holds a bike auction, including impounded bikes and bikes that have been found abandoned. Twenty-five bikes were sold at last year’s auction. The proceeds are used to buy the helmets that are given to kids throughout the year.

In response to a question from George Graves about the various pieces of equipment each officer was carrying, Officer Alden noted that an officer riding a bike is carrying twenty-five to thirty pounds of additional weight besides his own, including such equipment as his firearm, pepper spray, hand cuffs, and a taser gun. All officers, beginning with the chief himself, have experienced being tasered as part of their training. The optimum distance for the effective use of a taser gun is seven to twenty-one feet so that the two barbs expelled by the gun are effectively distanced apart when they embed in the body. Chief Alexander said that in some ways being tasered is less traumatic that being pepper spayed. The taser pulse lasts for five seconds; pepper spray feels like knives in your eyeballs for hours. An unruly person will often calm down and become cooperative if he sees a police officer place a taser’s red sighting dot on the offender’s body. Statistics have demonstrated that there is very little chance for a taser blast to prove deadly, perhaps only when special conditions such as drug use have compromised the individual.

Officer Alden was asked why he seemed to be wired for sound similar to a special agent of the United States Special Service. His response was that it is important to be able to receive messages without being overheard by other people in the vicinity, perhaps even by a suspect who is the subject of the message being overheard. Also, while riding on a bicycle, an officer can more easily key the communications microphone on and off if he is fully wired. A mountain bike police officer is prepared to carry out all the duties that fall upon an officer using a patrol car. Last year around midnight when the Benning Street Bar and Grill was still in operation,Officer Alden was riding his bike behind Powerhouse Plaza when groups of young patrons began leaving the bar in questionable condition to drive. One young driver got into her car with her friends and proceeded to hit several other cars in the process of backing out. WhenOfficer Alden stopped her from his bike by rapping on the back of her trunk, she responded that she had seen him but hadn't thought that he could stop her while on his bike. His response, “Obviously I can.”