Bike officers in Athens and around the land.

Kelby Lamar

February 24, 2011

Trend Story Final

Many police officers that patrol the streets of downtown Athens and elsewhere must endure serious training to do their jobs effectively.

Officers must be physically fit, pass a written examination, and request assignment to the bike patrol unit in order to be part of that unit.

Most bike officers have several similarities to more traditional officers that patrol in squad cars.  These officers are trained to use firearms effectively, administer pepper spray, as well as place handcuffs on a detained suspect.

Many bike officers across the nation are a part of an organization known as the International Police Mountain Bike Association or IPMBA.  Membership in the IPMBA requires several tasks to be completed.

According to the organization’s website, in order to become a member of the IPMBA officers must “successfully complete the practical test, earn a score of 76% or better on the written test, become members of IPMBA, and submit applications for certification accompanied by the appropriate fee.”

Currently, there are 55 police departments in the state of Georgia. that have the technology and the certification to use bike patrol officers.

However, another city, Memphis, Tenn. also uses bike officers in its Downtown district.  It’s been six months since Memphis Police started regularly patrolling the Downtown area on bikes.  According to Col. Robert Shemwell of the Memphis Police Dept. it has made a big difference in how safe people feel.  “These officers have gone in, and, within a matter of months, have cleared this up,” said Col. Shemwell.  “What they do is they address any issues that occur inside that Downtown Core area,” Col. Shemwell said.  “Mainly, aggressive panhandling, the Downtown area has the perception of being unsafe because of those types of individuals.”

Athens is in a very similar situation in its own downtown district.  Officers who are on bike patrol in downtown Athens are a part of the downtown substation uniform division.  Major Carter Greene, who has over 26 years of experience with the Athens Police Department, heads this division.

According to Greene, the types of crimes that officers witness downtown vary greatly based on the time of year as well as the time of day.  “The typical crimes that we see downtown are shoplifting, graffiti, entering autos, and ordinance violations,” he said.  “Obviously, an officer on a bicycle can witness someone trying to break into a car easier than an officer driving around can.  People in Athens are pretty aware of the 3 types of cultures that exist downtown.  You’ve got your day-time business community, your evening people, and the people who come out late at night.  With all of the different types of people coming and going, the opportunities for crime increase.”

However, bike officers cannot be everywhere at once.  When large crowds gather on the streets, bike officers utilize their radios to call for back-up from officers who are patrolling the surrounding area in their squad cars.  The importance of calling for back-up cannot be overestimated when the sidewalks are littered with people coming out of night clubs and bars.

A hand creeping inside of a purse or a jeans back pocket is the last thing that people want to be worried about when they are out and about downtown.

Though both Athens and Memphis have had problems with panhandlers and the homeless in the downtown district, there have been no recent arrests in Athens of these individuals.

However, over the past two weeks there have been several arrests made on

W. Broad Street and S. Milledge Avenue.

According to data obtained from crimereports.com, there have been 8 instances of breaking and entering, 5 drug related charges, 6 D.U.I.’s, 1 instance of theft by taking, and 1 instance of entering auto.  However, the data does not specify whether the arrests were made by bike officers or otherwise.

Many of the bike officers in downtown Athens focus on certain areas in the district that have the most activity.  Broad Street and Washington Street are two key areas that bike officers like to pay attention to because of the large number of people who congregate in these areas.

Underage students walk in and out of bars as if they’re practicing a scene in a play.  Fake identification cards are such a common occurrence that it’s second nature for officers to question almost every I.D. that they see.  In case of any violations, officers are equipped with handcuffs and ticket pads to issue citations and arrest individuals who are causing a problem. 

Along with the Athens Clarke County bike patrol officers, the University of Georgia also has bike officers that patrol along and in the downtown district as well.  The two departments often partner together on game day weekends as well as weekends with big events to ensure that the downtown district does not become unruly.

Although bike officers are posted at the most pivotal places downtown, they are not a catch all for crime.  Officers cannot be everywhere at once, and they cannot solve every case.  It is still up to the citizens to lock car doors, travel in groups, and always bring a designated driver if you plan to drink alcohol.  Although crime is relatively low in the downtown districts of Athens and Memphis, it is still important to remember that it exists.  Col. Shemwell summed it up best when referring to the Memphis bike patrol officers.  “When crime does happen, our bike cops are on it.”

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