MANTENO — Last week, Zairius West pedaled 65 miles while patrolling the village’s streets during a couple nights.
The patrolman was riding one of the Manteno Police Department’s new electric-assistance police bicycles. The department recently bought two of the bikes to diversify its patrols.
“It’s different than patrolling in the squad car,” West said. “The interaction with the community gives us more positive feedback. It helps us break a barrier. We are more approachable. Plus, we get to exercise while working.”
The department has had a bike patrol over the past 20 years. However, its bike program has become dormant as the old bikes aged.
The new bikes, which cost about $3,800 each, are “military-grade.” They offer electric pedal assistance that can go up to 30 mph. They also feature police lights, sirens, electric lockouts and track calories burned by officers.
“One of the problems with bike patrol is if you have to help on a call and you’re clear across town, you have to pedal,” Police Chief Alan Swinford said. “You are going to get tired just getting there.
“With these, you can zip across town, not be exhausted when you get there and help other officers. These were made specifically for police and military. They are heavy-duty. It’s a tank of a bicycle.”
With the new bikes, the department plans on creating special detail shifts, such as shifts to cover downtown events or sporting events at Heritage Park.
Last week, the department used the new bikes for the Law Enforcement Torch Run to support Special Olympics. One officer also had a fellow electric-assist bicyclist ride alongside him while patrolling the village.
“It’s very good for community policing,” Swinford said. “We’re on a bike. We’re more approachable. A lot of kids have asked questions about the bikes when our guys are out.”
So far, four officers have completed the mandatory 40-hour certification to conduct bike patrols. Four more officers will take the course within the next few weeks.
The department has a bike patrol uniform. However, it won’t be uncommon to see officers riding the bikes with standard uniforms as they get some exercise on duty.
“Instead of driving a squad car for eight hours, you can break it up and do something different,” West said. “You can get some air and hear more of what is going on while riding a bike. If it’s 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., you don’t expect to see a cop on a bike.”
Bringing back the bike patrol is yet another example of the department mirroring the community’s interests.
“We have different ways for patrolling, which is what we want,” Swinford said. “We have the perfect downtown for it. You have to match your community.
“We had 400 golf carts in the town, and the department didn’t have a golf cart. We got one last year. Now, we have the bikes. Maybe we will do a horse patrol next year,” he joked.