The Pine Bluff Police Department has made many positive steps in the last seven months. We saw evidence of this Tuesday with the re-inauguration of the bicycle patrol.
The unit, along with departmental administrators, Mayor Debe Hollingsworth and other dignitaries held a press conference to commemorate the occasion.
Launched in conjunction with National Night Out, the seven officers (plus Capt. Kelvin Hadley), in the newly re-formed unit has an office at 1210 S. Cherry St. The establishment of additional neighborhood-oriented satellite offices is a priority of the department.
According to Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, the bike patrol itself is a high departmental priority.
Citing the previous bike patrol unit’s efficacy and popularity with the public, Hubanks stated, “They’re here and they’re here to stay, and the budget is going to have to be very bad for them to be on the chopping block again.”
The unit also represents the fulfillment of a campaign promise made by Hollingsworth. Characterizing the officers as “wonderful.” she went on to say, “They’re going to bring another level of policing and will be able to develop one-on-one relationships with the citizens.”
During the press conference, Hubanks made several references to the previous incarnation of the unit. He noted that the original patrol had 10 officers, while the present has just six. Hubanks indicated that expansion back to original strength was a central goal of his.
As was noted at the event, the bike patrol represents a nod to the 1990s era of Community Oriented Policing. While the term Community Oriented Policing represents a kind of passing political fashion, the core ideas are centuries old. Community policing, at its best, relies on very strong relationships between neighborhoods and the officers assigned to them.
Among those populations that have been traditionally underserved (or improperly served) by police, bike patrol represents a way to establish a bond of trust. Neighborhood residents learn that the officers have a two-fold mission: assistance when something bad happens; and making sure fewer bad things do happen.
A noted policing scholar once observed that air conditioning was the worst thing ever done for the police. As soon as officers had air conditioned automobiles in which to patrol, the car windows went up, creating an artificial barrier between the officer and the community. That simple glass pane served to make a physical distance, but it also fostered an emotional distance — for both parties.
Further, the vastly improved mobility and speed of response that patrol cars bring means that officers often come from outside the neighborhood. Their increased mobility — an undisputed positive — is paradoxically also a negative. Mobility retards a key benefit of bike patrol: neighborhood investment in the officers.
Back in the old days of bike patrol, Neighborhood Watch groups would often talk about “their officer.” Their officer knew things about them — their work schedules, who their children were, when they went out of town. Their officers also knew when something wasn’t right. Moving slowly through a neighborhood on a bike permits a deeper absorption of details. The fine grain of a neighborhood is added to the officer’s general knowledge.
As Hadley stated at the press conference, the relative stealth of the bike patrol has already led to four arrests. “I guess we were able to sneak up on them because when we rolled up and they saw us, the first thing was ‘Oh, God, there’s the police,’ ” Hadley said.
Inexpensive and ready to roll — were it that the rest of city government ran as smoothly. We wish the bike patrol a safe and successful mission.