By Brandi Makuski
Once spring hits, residents in Stevens Point should get used to seeing police officers patrolling some parts of the city on bicycles.
The Stevens Point Police Department’s bicycle patrol unit was launched in 1990. The idea, according to Corp. Ted Wanta, was to bring a higher law enforcement presence to parks, riding trails and other places difficult to patrol with a squad car.
“It’s always a good thing for the public to see us out and about,” said Wanta, who’s been with the department since 2001 and has overseen the bike unit since 2005. “It’s good for PR, it’s a good way to interact with the community; plus, there’s not much better than being paid to ride a bike.”
Wanta said there are usually at least two officers on each shift with bicycle certification. Officers can park their squads then ride bicycles in nearby areas to interact with the public—and to watch for crime.
“There are some pretty good hiding spots downtown where you can’t park a squad,” Wanta said. “There are plenty of times we’re on a bike, right in the thick of something on the Square, and people don’t even realize we’re behind them.”
But there’s little money available in the department’s budget to spend on the bike patrol unit, Wanta said, so it relies on donations from the public or local businesses. The department currently has four patrol bicycles—high-performance mountain bikes, made specifically for police departments by Trek—costing about $1,200 each.
The fourth bike, according to Assistant Police Chief Mike Rottier, was donated by an anonymous citizen. A fifth bike, an electric-assist bicycle, is being donated by the Heartland Bicycle Club, he said.
Justin Sonnentag, from Trek Bicycle Store of Stevens Point, said the new hi-tech bicycle is rechargeable, and can travel up to 60 miles between charges with a top speed of almost 30 mph.
The bike also comes with a hefty price tag—about $3,500, he said.
“Our store will donate $600, so that’ll leave a little bit for extras,” like lights, decals and other amenities, Sonnentag said.
“If you’re out on the bike and a call comes in but you’re four, five block away from your squad, this gets you back fast,” Rottier said. “Plus, it’ll come in pretty handy if you have to engage in a pursuit with a suspect who’s either on bike or foot, but you’re not near your squad.”
With the heightened bike patrol presence, Rottier said, comes an increased emphasis on bike safety education, as well as traffic laws relating to bike usage.
“It’s a great educational tool; a lot of people don’t realize when you’re on a bike, the same laws that apply to cars apply to you,” he said. “You have to have a license, if you’re riding at night, you have to have your light on, and you have to obey all the same traffic laws.”
Rottier also referenced a recent law enforcement operation, funded by a state grant, that allowed for a bicycle education patrol near Franklin and Division streets.
“On Franklin Street, it’s a one-way; but you see a lot of college kids on the road riding the wrong-way,” he said. “So we were stationed there for a few days as a part of this operation, and we were reaching out to as many bicycle riders as we could on that road. If they’re on the road, the have to follow the same laws as motorists.”
As a part of bike safety education, Wanta added, the dept. also conducts multiple bike rodeos at local elementary schools, and works with the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club.
But the bikes are also helpful during department investigations, Wanna said.
“Last summer we had some problems with car break-ins, so there were four of us deployed on bikes,” Wanta said. “We stopped a lot of people in the area on bikes; any chance we had to stop someone and chat with them, we did.”
For information on providing a donation for the new electric-assist bicycle, click here.