For bike patrol officers, work isn't a ride in park

Posted Sunday, Apr. 08, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Editor's note: This report has been corrected to reflect that the final test on the firing range was from three yards away, instead of three feet.

FORT WORTH -- Let's say you've just ridden two miles at top speed, lugged your 30-pound bike up a set of stairs and swerved around a turning city bus a split second before disaster.

You would be forgiven if, when you reached your destination, you flopped to the ground, muscles quivering, and tried not to lose your lunch.

Unless you're a Fort Worth bike patrol officer, in which case you'd better try to calm your ragged breathing, gather your wits and get ready to deal with whatever threat sent you into such hot pursuit.

"We could get a hot call that could be two miles, three miles, let's say five miles away," said Ross Williamson, a Fort Worth neighborhood patrol officer and bike instructor. "We don't have the luxury of jumping in a police car and getting to that call.

"In a high-traffic situation, bikes can actually get to a call quicker downtown than a car can. So they ride to the scene as quickly as they can and as effectively as they can so they can take care of the situation."

Last week, 25 sworn officers, including two Fort Worth captains, plus four XTO security guards gathered at the Fort Worth Police and Fire Training Academy for an intense 40-hour bike patrol certification school. The class included officers from the Benbrook Police Department, which is starting a bike patrol program around Lake Benbrook.

The officers learned the rules of the road and headed outside to ride: up stairs and hills, around traffic cones and over curbs. They practiced standing perfectly still atop the pedals, a balancing maneuver known as a trackstand.

And, after starting at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday for the required "night ride," they made it back inside just before the massive storm system that rolled in after lunch.

On Friday, the final day, they partnered up, donned their bulletproof vests and gun belts, jumped on their bikes and raced through a timed obstacle course to answer a simulated "officer-down" call. Officer Carlos Duque, who runs the school with officer Jason Young, called it a live-fire stress test.

After a quick dismount at the firing range, they sprinted through the final obstacles and fired two sets of six shots at targets three yards away.

Full disclosure: One participant did lose his breakfast, but only after completing the course.

The exercise was a stark reminder that patrolling Fort Worth on a bike is far from a recreational stroll.

The winners of the live-fire stress test were a pair of neighborhood police officers: Mario Cabello of the West Division and Eric Vance of the South Division.

"They had clean runs and smoked the others," said Duque, who works with the downtown bike unit.

The training program was created by the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association, a national certification organization created in 1987 "with the birth of modern-day police cycling."

Fort Worth's downtown bike patrol unit, which was formed in 1991, is made up of 18 officers and two sergeants assigned to the department's Central Division. They work four 10-hour shifts atop their bikes every week, come rain, shine, heat or bitter cold. Some neighborhood officers also patrol on bicycles.

Central Division Capt. Daniel Humphries, who participated in the class, is an avid cyclist, but on a sleek road bike. The low-speed mountain bike drills were a particular challenge, he said.

The skills tests also challenged West Division Capt. Linda Stuart, a runner who had no problem with the cardio work.

Stuart said she enrolled to "be able to interact with the community, go out riding with them [her officers], meet citizens."

"This is all about getting to know your community," she said. "It's hard to do that in a car."

Kathy Vetter, 817-390-7380

Twitter: @30bike

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