It will be interesting to see how the patrol bike experiment works out for the Farmington Police Department.
We like the idea a lot. The new bike, a heavy duty mountain bike outfitted specifically for police use, will give officers access to parts of the city they cannot easily reach in squad cars. It will allow them to patrol the city's trail system and to get into areas along the city's railroad tracks, which have become a hangout for teens who damage property and play chicken with oncoming trains. The bike will, as one Farmington City Council member put it Monday, allow police officers to "sneak up" on people who might otherwise have seen them coming.
The new bike will also probably save the city some money on gas. There are no fossil fuels needed to power this new police cruiser, just a pair of strong legs.
Those are nice benefits, but they're not the main reason we're enthusiastic about the start of the Bike Cop era in the Farmington Police Department. The biggest benefit we see from the addition of this new tool is the way it eliminate barriers between police officers and the people they serve.
Police squad cars are great tools. They carry everything an officer could possibly need, they allow quick response to emergencies and they allow safe transportation of unruly passengers. But they hardly welcome casual contact. Barred windows are not much of an invitation to approach, and outside of National Night Out and a handful of other community events there is little opportunity for people to have a positive experience up close with a squad car.
A police officer sitting in a squad car is connected by computer and radio to all the information he or she could need, but less so to the people on the other side of the windshield.
Things are different with a bike. There is no barrier there, and when they go by police officers will be moving a lot slower. In theory, at least, that should make them much more approachable to residents who want to raise a minor concern or just say hello. That should mean more positive contacts between police and residents and in the long run a safer community.
That should be good for everyone.