Bicycle Patrols Key for Improving Police/Community Relations, Study Says

Published: April 30, 2008

BRISTOL, R.I. – If police departments want to enhance relations with the communities they serve, they should consider implementing bicycle patrols in lieu of some automobile patrols, a new study conducted by Chris Menton, associate professor of criminal justice at Roger Williams University, suggests.

In researching the topic, Dr. Menton accompanied officers in motor vehicles and on bicycle patrols during 32 separate shifts in urban residential and commercial downtown areas of five cities: Boston, Washington, Charlotte, N.C., Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn.

Dr. Menton recorded and coded all contacts between officers and members of the public, and the results indicate that officers on bicycles handled more than double the number of incidents and spoke with more than two times as many community members.

“Many big-city police departments have embraced the concept of community-based policing,” Dr. Menton says. “In those departments, closer relations and more contact with members of the public are major objectives. Clearly, bicycle patrols are an effective way to achieve that goal.”

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While many urban police departments use bicycle patrols to some degree, little research has been conducted to gauge their effectiveness. Dr. Menton’s study, titled “Bicycle Patrols: An Underutilized Resource,” is published in the current edition of “Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management.”

“Dr. Menton’s work validates what every bicycle officer quickly learns,” said Lt. Det. Jack Danilecki of the Boston Police, who founded the department’s Tactical Bicycle Patrol. “Bicycle patrol has allowed our officers to embrace community policing- visibility and citizen contacts occur on a much higher level than through random cruiser patrol.”

In addition to increased contact with members of the public, bicycle patrols offer other advantages, too: The overall tone of the contacts Dr. Menton observed was much more positive than that of automobile contacts. And officers on bicycles handled just as many serious incidents as did officers in cruisers, often with tactical advantages attributed to the maneuverability and stealth a bicycle offers.

The operational advantages, however, are just the start. “Members of the public feel better served and were often grateful for the better service,” Dr. Menton says. “It was common for citizens to approach an officer on bicycle patrol and thank them for their service, and gratitude helps officers feel better about the job they do.”

Dr. Menton doesn’t advocate for the comprehensive replacement of automobile patrols with bicycles-simply that an assertive, integrated bicycle/automobile approach will likely produce better results for departments looking to bolster community relations.

To read the study in its entirety, visit www.emeraldinsight.com and browse for the “Policing” journal.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Dr. Menton, contact Brian E. Clark, associate director of public affairs at Roger Williams University, at (401) 254-3407.

Roger Williams University is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as ninth among comprehensive colleges in the north. Roger Williams offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the arts and sciences, architecture, business, construction management, education, engineering, historic preservation, justice studies, legal studies, visual arts studies and law.

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RWU April 18, 2008 case study

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