By Jessica Peralta
Children and their parents gathered outside the JCPenney at the Westminster Mall on a recent Saturday for a back-to-school safety event, including important lessons on bike safety from members of the Westminster Police Department bike team.
“The idea was to get our local law enforcement (and) fire department to join us to promote safety for the kids now that they’re going back to school,” said Jhovanny Procopio, asset protection manager for the mall’s JC Penney store, which sponsored The Back to School Safety Bash on Aug. 19.
WPD’s bike team participates in several types of community outreach activities like this – including at local schools – teaching about helmet safety, proper signaling and also setting up a bike rodeo, which allows children to ride through an obstacle course of orange cones practicing the safety lessons they learned.
“We have a great time doing that,” said Sgt. Kevin MacCormick, who is the bike team coordinator.
Currently made up of seven officers and two sergeants (the unit is actually set up for 12 members), the team will go out to wherever they are needed – whether an event like the Tet Parade or an emergency call. It’s a collateral assignment, so team members are all assigned to other departments, such as detectives and traffic.
Of course, enforcement is a big part of what the team does. Riding a bike, for the officers and sergeants on the team, provides several benefits when it comes to law enforcement. For one, they’re stealthy.
“When we’re riding around on bikes, people can’t see us coming,” MacCormick said. “We slip and slide in the apartment complexes and nobody knows we’re around.”
More than once, the team has happened upon someone doing drugs or drinking in public – and the person has no idea there is a police officer on the bike right next to them.
“The looks on people’s faces when they get pulled over by a guy on a bicycle is just hilarious,” MacCormick said.
Another benefit is improved maneuverability through congested areas. Where a patrol car may get caught in traffic, a bicycle won’t. Bike team members are all trained in riding down a set of stairs or any other obstacle in pursuit of a suspect on foot – and they are able to jump off the bike while it’s in motion.
“When we’re chasing somebody, we don’t slow down or stop,” MacCormick said.
Bike team members go through a three-day class (24 hours total) to prepare for doing all the things officers must do while on patrol, only while doing them on a bike. They must carry all the same gear, and even have a siren on their bikes.
A prerequisite of being on the bike team is a knowledge of and passion for riding a bicycle.
“You have to be in good physical shape to be on the bike team,” said MacCormick. “We all love being cops. We all love riding bikes.”
For more on local law enforcement personalities, issues and practices, go to www.behindthebadgeoc.com .