DRYDEN — Although uncommon in rural police departments, a new bike patrol unit at the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office will help officers better access events, gatherings and high traffic areas, the undersheriff said.
The bike patrol unit, launched last week, will help the department reach its goals of increasing community engagement and getting deputies out of their cars and into the community, said Undersheriff Jennifer Olin.
“We have been asked the questions about how a bike patrol unit is going to be used in a sheriff’s office because it is unconventional,” Olin said. “There are so many opportunities to utilize bikes in this county.”
Tompkins County has several parks, walking trails, large housing complexes, shopping centers, colleges, universities and large festivals where bikes can and will be used, Olin said.
Since its launch last week, bike patrol deputies, like Zach Messmer and Mark Montesano, have attended two events — Trinity Lutheran Preschool’s trike-a-thon and Dryden Central School’s ride-your-bike-
to-school two-day event, Olin said.
The department expects to use the bike patrol during Grassroots, firework events and other public outdoor gatherings.
“Their assignment to this unit is ancillary to their normal road patrol assignments, similar to the marine patrol unit,” Olin said. “This unit not only increases opportunities for more community engagement, but also helps support officer wellness.”
The department couldn’t fund the patrol unit through the normal budget process and looked for other funding opportunities, Olin said. The Triad Foundation provided the department with a grant that helped the department buy four bikes, equipment and outfits for $6,000, excluding training.
When Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman worked as an officer for a rural department, the bike patrol unit worked well for community events, he said — especially events that attracted thousands of people.
“They go places where vehicles can’t go, like alleyways and stuff like that,” Pitman said. “A bike on Main Street can go from one end to the other in a matter of minutes, a lot quicker than road patrol.”
The Homer Police Department has had a bike patrol since 2017, Pitman said. But weather, scheduling and equipment transportation are the biggest concerns.
“You’re limited on what you can carry on a bike as far as equipment,” Pitman said. “In the computer age, everything is done on a computer and obviously you don’t have a computer on a bike.”
Still, communities are in favor of rural and urban bike patrol units, Pitman said. It gets officers out of their cars and onto the street.
Agencies within Cortland County will send officers to additional bike patrol school next week at SUNY Cortland.