By Brandi Makuski
Residents in Stevens Point expect to see police officers in squad cars while on patrol throughout the city.
But uniformed officers patrolling the Green Circle Trail on bicycles? Get used to it, police say.
“There are places on the Green Circle Trail where we see crime,” said Corp. Ted Wanta, “but being out on the bikes is also really good for PR. People really like seeing us out there, especially in the parks and neighborhoods.”
The Stevens Point Police Dept. launched its bike patrol program in 1990. Wanta started overseeing the program about a year ago, and he said it’s surprisingly effective at catching criminals in the act — especially at night.
“I actually prefer it at night,” Wanta said. “It’s much more beneficial, law enforcement-wise; people just don’t expect it. I can be downtown at night, in full uniform on a bike, and most people don’t even see us until we’re right behind them.”
A bike patrol can sometimes be more effective than the presence of a squad car, he said.
“[Suspects] don’t stop any illegal activity they’re doing, and when they finally do see us, the look on their face, at first, is one of shock,” he added.
The department currently has three patrol bicycles — high-performance mountain bikes, made specifically for police departments by Trek Bikes — and would like a fourth, but lacks the necessary funding. Each bike costs about $1,200, Wanta said.
“I don’t have a budget for the program,” Wanta said. “We just buy what we can with any money left over from the department’s budget.”
This year, Wanta said he was able to purchase summer uniforms for all eight officers who participate in the program, along with a bicycle hitch for a third squad car.
Along with police department graphics emboldened on their frames, the bikes also are equipped with a small pack containing nighttime lighting, citation books and some first aid items, along with baseball cards and ice cream coupons for kids.
The bike patrols, according to Assistant Police Chief Tom Zenner, are typically “park and ride” patrols, where officers conduct regular patrols in a squad car for a few hours, then park and scout neighborhoods in pairs on a bicycle.
“I wouldn’t say it’s used as often as we would want, but it’s really driven on manpower,” said Zenner, who participated in the bike patrol program in the past. “But it’s always good for people to see officers out on bikes in the neighborhoods.”
“And we’re never really alone when we’re out there; my fellow officers and dispatch all know where I am at all times,” Wanta said, adding a backup squad responds when a bicycle patrol officer needs to take a suspect into custody.
Wanta said officers perform some of the bicycle maintenance themselves to save money, but the bikes get regular, professional maintenance at Campus Cycle.
“I might be in the minority, but I love it — I get to exercise on the job,” Wanta said. “All of us on the bike team love doing this. You see so much more of the community when you’re out there on the bike.”