The days are getting longer and temperatures are on the rise. Soon, neighborhoods will be filled with children playing and parents enjoying sunny Louisiana weather.
The days are getting longer and temperatures are on the rise. Soon, neighborhoods will be filled with children playing and parents enjoying sunny Louisiana weather. To help facilitate a smooth and peaceful transition into summer, the Directorate of Emergency Services began bicycle patrols May 15. Patrols will visit specific neighborhoods, primarily in the afternoon and evening. Bicycle patrols are intended to interact with residents and get to know the Fort Polk community. A familiarity with neighborhoods can be a powerful deterrent to criminal activity. Often, a bike patrol’s early involvement in neighborhood disputes can resolve problems before they escalate to a criminal offense.
Lt. Col. Glenn C. Schmick, 519th Military Police Battalion commander, said establishing the bike patrol was a priority because it’s a proven and effective technique to interact with the community and provides a safe environment for kids when they are out of school.
“Summer is when kids are incorporated back into the mix of what’s going on in the neighborhoods and where the bike patrol will be most useful since kids do things like make forts in the woods, have street rivalries, leave bikes out on the street, run home in an effort to make it back before curfew, don’t wear their safety helmets and more,” Schmick said. “That’s why bike patrols will only be used in the housing areas.”
Schmick said that each bike patrol will be attached to a patrol car.
“They will go to a housing area, stay there for a couple of hours, load up (the bike) and head to another one," he said. "They’ll move around the community to make a safe environment for our kids. It also gives the officers a chance to interact with the Fort Polk community on a more personal level and get feedback on a one-to-one basis that we hope will lead to a greater understanding of the community.”
Staff Sgt. Spencer Wellman, the bike team’s noncommissioned officer in charge, said that patrol times in each neighborhood will vary.
“One day we may be working 8 a.m. to noon," Wellman said. "Then another day we may work from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. It keeps that element of surprise for the public.”
The bike patrol also allows for better observation of what’s happening in neighborhoods across Fort Polk.
“If there are trouble areas that need specific emphasis, the bike patrol will help us focus on what really needs to be done," Schmick said. "They will be looking at everything from which street corners have a lot of traffic accidents to where there’s vandalism or break-ins. That information allows us to realign patrols, cameras and other resources to combat those challenges."
These officers have the exact same capabilities and carry the same equipment on a bike as they do in a patrol car, except for lack of radar and street speed, according to Wellman.
“But if we are pursuing someone on foot, we have the advantage of being able to cut through neighborhoods a lot faster,” he said.
The officers that make up the bike patrol are hand selected from Fort Polk’s Special Reaction Team, which is the civilian equivalent of a SWAT team. To become a member of Fort Polk’s SRT, officers must compete, according to Schmick.
“More than 1,000 military police tried out for the team," he said. "From that number we only select 14 to be on the SRT,” he said. “The bike patrol was then individually selected from the SRT team. They are the best of the best.”
It’s a given that they were chosen for their skills, intelligence and physical strength, but those attributes probably aren’t going to impress a 9 year old. And Schmick said that’s OK.
“(The patrols will) just give them a high five and let them talk about whatever they want to,” he said.
Wellman said they will walk a fine line between being able to subdue someone with a high level of intensity and at the same time, possibly during the same incident, approach a child and explain that everything is OK.
“We need all those skills to make a well-rounded police officer,” he said.
Bikes make them more approachable, said Wellman.
“Would you rather talk to a couple of police officers on bicycles or a police car that’s driving by?” he asked.
Some members of the patrol are fathers, said Sgt. Joseph Peace, team leader.
“I’ve got a 7 year old at home, so going out into the community and talking with a young kid, even to possibly gather intelligence, shouldn’t be a problem at all,” he said.
Peace said he thinks the bike patrol is going to be beneficial to the Fort Polk community.
“It gives the MP Corps and DES an edge," he said. "It’s going to help us respond faster, give us a better lay of the land and interaction with the public. We hope that the public will learn to trust us and call us more."
Schmick said that if the community has any recommendations or areas they would like the bike patrol to concentrate on, call the 519th MP Battalion or the Directorate of Emergency Services.
"We want to encourage residents to get to know your local bike patrol when you see them out there over the course of the summer," Schmick said. "They are there to serve you and want to help."