December 6, 2021

Police leg work pays off

Bikes give Cortland force a neighborhood presence

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland City Police Officer Joe Peters patrols June 21 on Main Street.

Cortland Patrolman Kyle Green probably knows the back alleys, parking lots and roads around the city of Cortland better than a stray cat.

On a recent afternoon, Green cut through an alleyway behind the Cortland Standard building, then through a parking lot that led to another narrow path and an opening between two fences that he pedaled through, one of several routes that had him scooting around town, from the south side, to all four elementary schools, Beaudry and Suggett parks and Courthouse Park, where he righted a fallen garbage can.

Rarely was he on a main street. It’s the sort of knowledge one gets when one pedals a patrol rather than drive it.

When a suspect climbed a fence, Green didn’t have to go around; he knew about the gap.

“Your drug dealers and criminals, they are going to stay out of sight,” he said. But a bike is quiet, perfect when he spends an evening patrolling parts of town where the dealers linger.

Green’s experience isn’t unique, said Deputy Chief Paul Sandy, who started the bike patrol 25 years ago. Any of the department’s bike patrol officers could tell you the same thing.

What started with four pedaling patrolmen to increase community presence has grown to 15 officers sharing eight bikes, Sandy said. This year Sandy is selling an older bike to Homer Police Department and will put those proceeds toward the purchase of a new bike. The city department has 15 bike cops, putting one on a bike per shift, as staffing allows.

Officers like Green patrol only in good weather, like a recent sunny afternoon. Green enjoys being on his bike — a Specialized mountain bike with 29-inch wheels, emergency lights, siren and equipment bag. His outfit is lightweight and riding in the summer provides a breeze.

Officers on bicycle are more approachable than an officer in a patrol car, Sandy said, and they can more easily assist in certain details, like traffic control during a 5K, for example.

Bikes can go where a patrol car can’t, Sandy said — a back alley where drugs are sold. And an officer can hear more without the rumble of a car’s engine, like the breaking glass of a burglary.

The bicycle officers alternate shifts between bicycle and routine patrol duties.

On the SUNY Cortland campus, officers from police departments from all over the region waved to Green as they pedaled up Prospect Terrace, out for a ride as part of a five-day course taught by instructors from different agencies, including University police officer Erik Merlin, that certifies them as bike patrol officers.

Green recalls what was entailed in passing the course — riding the circles in a parking spot-sized space, slaloming through the cones, too. Green learned some tricks, like how to ride down or up a flight of stairs — bumping down a staircase at the SUNY Cortland campus. The trick is to ride the back brake lightly, stay off the front brake and put your weight over the seat.

That’s fun, but the increased community presence is what it’s all about, Green said. People are more likely to speak to a bike patrol officer because he is less intimidating than an officer in a car.

In a small city like Cortland, a bicycle patrol can respond to just about any call a patrol car could. Clearly not chasing after a moving vehicle, or hauling a suspect to police headquarters, Sandy said.

However, Green has written tickets on his bike for texting and driving infractions — he’s seen people drive past him while texting. He summons them into a nearby parking lot and handles the violation.