After a full week of learning the ins and outs of proper bicycle technique, Ames Police Officer Dilok Phanchantraurai can attest that not everything is, “just like riding a bike.”
“Going up stairs (with a bike), and doing drops from a foot or two feet requires physical strength, and a really good amount of balance not to fall,” Phanchantraurai said. “(Applying these techniques) in a real-life situation, if we have to pursue somebody, every split-second is really important.”
Phanchantraurai, along with officers from the Nevada, Iowa State, Grinnell, Clear Lake and West Liberty police departments, have been taking part in a 40-hour bike patrol certification course, which teaches a combination of policing tactics, riding techniques, and maintenance.
Originally from Thailand, Phanchantraurai said that he grew up with people biking everywhere, but that there is a major difference between what he had as a child, to the fully-loaded technically advanced bikes he rides as a police officer.
“I rode bicycles a lot when I was younger, but since I’ve been in the U.S., so 20 years, I haven’t ridden bicycles,” Phanchantraurai said. “So it took awhile for me to get back into it.”
The course is sponsored by the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) instructed by certified bike instructors Ames Police Officer Ryan Hauge, and Nevada Police Sgt. Josh Cizmadia. According to Hauge, the course is designed to not only expand the Bike Patrol Units, but also get these officers more comfortable with their bikes.
“(It’s designed) to get officers thinking more about how to do the fine technicalities of riding a bike, more so than just getting on a bike and pedaling,” Hauge said.
According to Hauge, the Ames Police Department has had a bike patrol for almost 30 years, and with the addition of the four officers currently in the program, the department will have at least 12 certified bike patrol officers, who are primarily active from early summer through fall. Hauge said that bike patrol can go out in winter, but that it is primarily utilized when the weather is nicer. For the Nevada Police Department, Cizmadia said it has five certified bike patrol officers, one of which will be added from this week’s course.
Hauge said that a majority of the officers have basic bike-riding skills, and that a lot of what he and Cizmadia teach is just an advanced form of those skills.
“When they say, ‘Oh, it’s just like getting on and riding a bike,’ that is true, to get on and pedal a bicycle, we learn that as children, but there are a lot of finer points of technical stuff you never learn,” Hauge said. “We’re trying to get the other officers to get their confidence level up, to be able to work in a technical environment when duty calls.”
Though both officers agree that bike patrol has its fair share of misconceptions, they said that there are numerous advantages to being able to police from a bicycle as opposed to a squad car.
“When you’re going 25 to 35 mph in a patrol car, you tend to miss things, but when you’re on a bike you tend to pick things up a little better,” Cizmadia said.
In addition to monitoring their surroundings better, and staying covert, Cizmadia said that bicycles also allow officers to engage the community better as well.
”You’re more exposed to the community, so there’s a better opportunity for us to interact with the community, than in a patrol car just buzzing around the streets,” Cizmadia said. “We’re slower moving, so people can come up to us and talk to us.”