“Can you do any sweet tricks?”
The question makes Officer Ron Burkitt, a 28-year veteran of the Hilliard Division of Police and founding member of its bicycle unit, laugh.
“I like to say I can pedal as slow as someone can stand,” said Burkitt, a grin spreading across his face. “Anyone can go fast. Your center of gravity moves when you’re not pedaling, so you’re balancing with your brakes.”
The agency’s Bicycle Patrol Unit was founded as a pilot program in the spring of 1995 and consisted of one officer and one bicycle. The community’s response to the program was positive, and in the fall of 1995 the city committed to the unit’s expansion. There are now about 12 active members, all of whom are certified members of the International Police Mountain Bike Association.
Officers wear a special reflective uniform consisting of blue polo shirts and black shorts for high visibility. The mountain bicycles, which are transported on the back of cruisers, are fitted with flashing lights and retroreflective tape on the wheels and pedals.
Patrol officers who serve the unit have received specialized training in bicycle patrol operations, including suspect contact and apprehension, bicycle maintenance, slow speed skills and control. Officers undergo 40 hours of initial training, in addition to annual training. That training recently included navigating stairs on The Ohio State University campus.
“We want to maintain a mechanical advantage when chasing bad guys,” explained Burkitt, who is also a certified instructor and competition coordinator. “Even if that means going down stairs.”
Bike officers can easily patrol areas within the city which, prior to the unit’s inception, were nearly inaccessible. Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park, with its numerous walking paths, is now routinely visited by patrol officers. Those on the Rails to Trails walking and bicycle route now also see patrol officers during all three working shifts.
Officer Dustin Gigandet, who joined the unit in 2015 one year after his hire, works second shift. He prefers riding through neighborhoods late in the evenings because it allows him to pick out crimes that may not be as visible from a cruiser.
“It’s amazing how much you can hear and see,” he said. “You’re under disguise. They’re not expecting you to show up.”
In addition to patrolling areas restrictive to automobile patrol, bike officers are also utilized in many special events throughout the year where high concentrations of pedestrians make automobile patrol impossible, such as the Fourth of July festivities, football games and Old Hilliardfest.
Those events give officers the opportunity for more interaction with the public, too.
“It’s nice to just say hi to people,” Gigandet said. “And it’s nice to mix it up and be more exposed to the city. It gives a different dynamic to policing.