Cleveland Police Bicycle Unit Getting a Workout at the RNC

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The city of Cleveland purchased 300 bicycles for its police officers to use at the Republican convention this week.   The 400 thousand dollar cost was paid by a federal grant.       The delegates and demonstrators will be gone by Friday but it looks like the bikes will remain.   Ideastream’s Mark Urycki reports . . .

 

 

It would be hard to find a single block in downtown Cleveland this week that doesn’t have at least a few police officers walking around on duty.   But when a scuffle arises or protesters suddenly decide to go on a march it’s the bike patrol that gets the call.

When protesters have headed down a street some bikes follow behind while others flank the group on side streets to get ahead.

But maybe their most impressive use has been as barricades.   On Tuesday at Public Square officers quickly walked their bikes between two groups of opposing demonstrators when tempers flared.  They’ve also picked them up like shields to push people back. 

This is all new for Cleveland police but Chief Calvin Williams says they’ve been great so far.

“Oh we’re definitely been taking notes.  I mean after each deployment of the bicycle unit,   officers - we kinda look at it and make adjustments.  Yesterday was the same thing.  We brought them into the Square; they did a great job of sectioning things off and quieting people down. 

We did a couple extra things with the bicycle unit that we haven’t done in the past and they worked out pretty well for us.”  

Department leaders observed Seattle police deal with protesters in May and were so impressed they hired a Seattle company to train Cleveland officers.   

Captain Thomas Mandzak is the officer in charge of Cleveland’s bicycle unit.  He says the officers learned technical bike handling skills as well as crowd control. 

“It’s been very effective dealing with the large crowds we’ve been seeing at the RNC.   We can get anywhere quickly around the greater downtown area.”  

And they can do some things that cars can’t do like ride on sidewalks and go around. 

“We can get on the sidewalk.  We can go down steps.  We can go up a couple steps.   These bikes are really, really skillful.  It’s not just they’re general bike-riding courses.

It’s how you ride a bike slow through crowds and basically standing still with a bicycle.  There’s a lot of different techniques that go along with this.  

So are the officers in the bike patrol, are they chosen to be in it because they are being punished for some reason?

“No not at all.  We actually had an initial list of volunteers.  I got constantly emails, phone calls, text messages: ‘Hey, Can I be in the bike unit? Can I be the bike unit?’    When they heard how much training and how much fun it was, they were like ‘Can I please be part of this?’ “  

When the RNC is over the city won’t need bike cops to ride in groups of 30 or more as you see this week.  But they’ll be put to use.  Chief Williams is enough of a fan that he’s ridden with the bicycle unit on several evenings this week.   

“They’re a great tool day to day.  We plan on putting them out in each police d  istrict so the district commander can use them as they see fit.  We also plan to up our bicycle unit downtown.”  

That’s what Captain Manzdak likes to hear.   He thinks bikes are especially effective for beat cops in the neighborhoods for several reasons.

“We’re so approachable.   People constantly come up and ask us questions,  say hi, wave.   Kids, we pass out sticker badges to them. Take pictures.  It’s great.

Then on the other side of it, from what the guys tell me from other cities is people are always looking for that police car coming around the corner.  What they’re not looking for is a policemen on a bicycle. “

And Mandzak says cities like Columbus and Seattle are utilizing bike units year round.

The Kona mountain bikes cost about 1400 dollars apiece.  Chief Williams says he’d like to keep 200 and give some away to police departments at local universities, hospitals and the RTA, agencies that often help the city police large events.   

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