Police officers trade four wheels for two

By BUSTER WOLFE,

More Hattiesburg police officers will be patrolling the sidewalks in the future after the department’s bicycle force more than doubled in the past week.

With a dozen officers already patrolling on two wheels, the Hattiesburg Police Department certified 16 more last week with 32 hours of training. That gives the department 28 certified bicycle officers in its 98-man force.

HPD spokesman Ryan Moore said bicycle officers are not about high-speed chases or trick maneuvers.

“Most people think you jump on a mountain bike and you go as fast as you can,” he said. “That’s not the case here. They are taught slow and in control and to drive and ride in tight areas, whether it’s a crowd, HubFest, a block party, a festival, downtown and Art Walk or anything like that. They are taught to ride in a crowded area in and around obstacles.”

Bicycle officers will have to work in tight spaces, Moore said, when they drive in traffic.

“Most people we would say, ‘Hey, can you please ride on the sidewalk?’” he said. “But in the event something urgent were to happen, they are taught to ride in traffic and maneuver.”

Because of their surroundings, bike officers have to make allowances.

“When officers are on bicycles, they don’t have the cover and protection of a car,” Moore said. “This course also covers safety techniques that they can use and how to use objects around them. They do the majority of (the training) at the airport on the training pad.”

Moore said bicycle officers will be able to concentrate on high-crime areas.

“In areas where there have been burglaries, you may see a couple of bike officers riding through there in addition to a marked patrol car,” he said. “It’s just another way of getting involved in the community and that community engagement. Because people are on a sidewalk, they are more apt to say, ‘Hey, officer, how are you doing today?’ It’s an easier approach to speaking to them instead of an officer having to roll down his window and talk.”

Bicycle officers are also able to blend in more easily than officers in patrol cars, Moore said.

“When you someone on a bicycle riding around, you don’t see it as someone in a marked patrol car with blue lights coming through a neighborhood,” he said. “In areas that have been hit with residential burglaries, you’ll see those start popping, especially during the warmer months. If we have an increase in auto burglaries, you’ll see bicycle patrolmen roaming around a very heavily populated street area, whether it’s the Avenues, Palmer’s Crossing or anywhere across the city.”

Moore said bicycle officers will rarely be by themselves.

“They ride in pairs, side by side,” he said. “Where they are, there’s also going to be a marked unit nearby. They are not going to be taking somebody to jail on the back of a bicycle.”

For the HPD officers, the bicycle force will be a type of outreach.

“It’s basically walking a beat with a bike,” Moore said. “It’s going to be something that you see commonly.”

Other ways to reach the community for the bicycle officers will be by offering safety classes at local schools.