How Bike Patrols Can Improve Campus Safety

Public safety cyclists model safe cycling behavior for students, effectively manage crowds at sporting events and augment campus community policing efforts.
Published: February 25, 2013

Anyone who spends even a few minutes at a college or university soon realizes how prevalent bicycles are on a campus. Reasons vary from economics to convenience, from versatility to effectiveness, to just plain fun. Whatever the reason, a campus’ pedestrian-friendly design makes cycles the ideal conveyance for fast and easy personal transportation. The reasons they work so well for students and staff are the same reasons they work so well for campus police and security.

Police first began using mountain bikes in Seattle to combat the gridlock of a downtown construction project. They soon learned that the bikes brought them quickly and easily to places they never dreamed of policing in their squad cars. As a result, arrests went up and crime went down. Those with a penchant for committing crimes found it more difficult to find places the police couldn’t or wouldn’t go. In addition, the bike officers reported a greatly enhanced ability to interact with the public in a way never possible while patrolling in a car. Positive contacts increased exponentially, and the reaction to the bike officers was welcoming.

Photo Gallery: Where to Deploy Bike Patrols

The effectiveness of police and security using mountain bikes was proven beyond question. City police and college campus public safety departments soon replaced foot beats with bike patrols. Others added bikes to the back of police cars to combine alternative patrol and response methods to the conventional ones. In most instances, bike patrol led to almost instant success.

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Bike Patrols Encourage Safe Cycling

In an environment with a significant cycling population, putting police/security on bikes places officers in the midst of the community’s primary mode of transportation. Trained officers encourage safe cycling behavior by setting a positive example. They also enforce cycling laws and ordinances, increasing safety for all roadway and campus facility users. Traffic in and around campus areas is historically dangerous for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike. Bike officers who ride correctly and enforce laws both targeting and protecting cyclists have an impact on overall traffic safety on and around the campus.

In pedestrian zones, which are present on practically all college campuses, patrol cars are impractical for all but the most serious calls. Mountain bikes enable trained officers to quickly and easily reach most areas, including tunnels, skyways and even inside buildings where motor vehicles could never reach. As a result, response times are significantly reduced. 

Most campuses have hidden or out-of-the-way places, like alleys and trails, which enable troublemakers because police/security in patrol cars can’t easily reach them. Mountain bikes make access easy, even if they have to be carried or pushed a short distance. Trouble will have to find another place take root.

Mountain bikes can be used in less conventional methods of patrol as well.  Plainclothes personnel riding unmarked or disguised bikes can ride or “hang out” in target areas while blending in with the community. Officers are able to observe and survey an area for particular crimes or problems, or wait for particular people. Equipment can be carried in the same sort of backpack seen everywhere on campus. The bike enables the officer to either move in quickly to make an arrest or continue surveillance on the move while summoning uniformed officers.

For campuses embracing the concepts and goals of community policing, bike patrol, used correctly, is one of the most effective tools in the community policing “toolbox.” The increased presence and accessibility of the officers encourages positive contacts and interactions with all members of the campus community. And for those striving for a “greener” environment, police bikes fit the bill. 

Bike officers are also uniquely qualified to combat the growing problem of bike theft. Some campuses, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have successfully used GPS-equipped “bait” bikes to target and reduce bicycle thefts. They report arresting nearly 50 people in the first couple years of the program. Using bike officers to provide both surveillance and arrest teams during these initiatives works well.]

BRTs Effectively Control Crowds

Within the past decade, police have discovered yet another effective use for patrol bikes: crowd management at political and sporting events. Called Bicycle Response Teams (BRTs), or “Bert” for short, they have made a noticeable difference in the ability of trouble makers to move about and function unimpeded. While first used primarily at high-profile political events, BRT methods have increasingly been adopted by regional incident response teams and smaller agencies, including campus departments. 

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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series