What has four wheels, two badges and can go practically anywhere it’s needed?
Oxford Township’s new bike patrol.
Over the weekend, Oakland County Sheriff’s deputies Jim Willyard and Brandy Mendicino tackled their very first assignment atop mountain bikes – patrolling the Seymour Celebration held at the 132-acre Seymour Lake Twp. Park.
Riding among the thousands of attendees, they kept a sharp eye out for ordinance violations, disturbances and potential criminal activity, while making small talk with folks and handing out stickers to smiling kids.
Both deputies view the bikes, which are equipped with lights and sirens, as valuable new tools in their law enforcement arsenal.
“You can see more from a bicycle than you can from a patrol car,” said Willyard, who’s been with the sheriff’s office for 29 years. “In a patrol car, you can only see through the windshield and the windows. Riding a bike, you can see a whole lot more.”
The bikes will be used to patrol the Polly Ann Trail, township parks and local subdivisions like Waterstone.
Willyard said they will be on the trail “as often as we can.”
“(Sheriff’s) Lt. (Scott) Patterson (commander of the Oxford substation) wants us out there as much as possible,” he said.
They will try to vary when they conduct their patrols so as to avoid becoming predictable.
“We’ll be out there when people least expect it,” Willyard said.
Depending on the manpower needs at any given time, Willyard expects them to use the bikes “probably a couple hours a day.”
The bikes will also be used to access local gravel pits where their stealthy nature can help officers apprehend, for example, trespassing teenagers who go there to drink alcohol and hold parties at night. Unlike standard patrol vehicles, bikes don’t emit loud engine noises or have bright headlights to signal their approach.
“With this, you can come up on people and they don’t even know you’re there,” said Mendicino, who’s been with the sheriff’s office for 12 years. “Unless you hear the tires on the gravel, you don’t know we’re coming. We can come from anywhere. I think it’s an effective tool.”
“People don’t expect to see police on bicycles,” Willyard said.
Willyard noted riding a bike doesn’t lessen their abilities or powers as police officers. “We can do traffic stops on the bike. We can take calls on the bike. We can make arrests. We can do everything,” he explained. “We’re regular police, but we’re just riding on a bike instead of in a car.”
Mendicino enjoys the positive public relations aspect of having cops on two wheels.
“People are more receptive to you,” she explained. “They are more cooperative and willing to talk to you because a bike appears less threatening.”
“You do have more contact with people as opposed to being in a vehicle,” Mendicino added. “On the bikes, when we see people, it’s easier for us to stop and talk. They like it.”
Prior to their new assignment, the deputies had varying degrees of bicycle experience.
“I like to mountain bike and I’ve been doing it for years, so this is like a natural step for me,” Willyard said.
“I don’t know the last time I rode a bike before this,” Mendicino said.
To prepare themselves for their new two-wheeled duties, the deputies underwent a week-long, 40-hour training class at the Combined Regional Emergency Services Training (CREST) center on the Auburn Hills campus of Oakland Community College.
There, they learned a variety of things such as how to maintain control of the bike while riding very slowly and through crowds; how to make tight turns and ride up and down cement stairs; how to ride long distances without exhausting oneself; and how to dismount in a safe, effective manner.
“It’s a good class,” Mendicino said. “The instructor, Aaron Burgess, is excellent.”
They learned how to use the bike as an offensive weapon to apprehend suspects.
“If someone’s running (away) on foot, I’ll let them run all day. I’ll just ride my bike until they get tired and then, boom, I’ll get them,” Willyard said.
They also learned how to utilize the bike for defensive purposes.
“This thing can be a barrier between you and an armed subject,” Willyard said.
The deputies are glad they’re able to step up and provide this service for residents.
“Lt. Patterson has been wanting a bike patrol for a long time and it’s not something that most deputies are willing to do,” Willyard said.
“I love it,” Mendicino said. “I like the response we get from the public.”