Those who have been out and about in Ocean View this past week may have spotted something they may have never seen before — an Ocean View police officer on a bicycle.
On June 1, the Ocean View Police Department began its bike-patrol program, headed by Officer AnnMarie Dalton.
“I approached [Chief Ken McLaughlin] about possibly starting a bike patrol, because I thought it would be nice to really get out and do more community policing, rather than just sit inside the vehicle,” said Dalton, “Especially with some of the bigger developments, people are out there with their kids, barbecuing, stuff like that.”
Through two grants, from the Delaware Criminal Justice Council and Sussex County Council, the department was able to purchase two Police Trek bikes for the department’s use.
“We actually had a bike patrol way back when, but we were always so shorthanded that the bikes weren’t getting used, because, for the most part, we only had one officer. We didn’t have overtime money back in the day,” said McLaughlin.
“We saw a need in the community to enhance some of our community policing programs. As we get busier, we have less time to talk to people, and we want to make sure we don’t lose the relationships, those ties to the community that we’ve quite frankly worked really hard to build.”
The bike patrol will occur at various times throughout the day and week, depending on who would like to patrol. McLaughlin said the department will be using other grants the department has received to pay for the overtime pay of the bike patrol officers. The patrol will not have a set schedule, and officers will not be out biking in inclement weather.
“You come in for a couple hours and get out there on the bike,” said Dalton.
Due to response times being lengthened by pedaling on a bicycle, officers working bike patrol will not be scheduled to work alone. The bike patrol officer will also advise the Sussex County emergency operations center (SusCom) of their varied patrols so, if need be, they can call other officers to assist on an incident.
The equipment the officer wears will be the same — including their tactical vests and body cameras. They will have a reflective “police” banner on their vests so they are more visible and will be wearing protective helmets.
“[It’s the bike] most police officers and paramedics use,” Dalton said of the purchase. “We have a little bag on the back that we keep medical supplies in and a traffic vest, just in case. We are equipped with red and blue lights, which is pretty neat. So, if we wanted to pull someone over, we actually could.”
Dalton said she hopes to be able to do some traffic enforcement on the bike as well, noting they are stealthier, so there is the potential to work on some of the speed violations and stop-sign violations in town.
“Especially in the summer, there’s a lot of people around. I may be able to stop a bicyclist riding on the wrong side of the road easier than a car would, too.”
Currently, three officers in the department have bike-police certifications, with the option available to the other officers.
“Other officers will get certified in the future. It’s not going to be mandatory for everybody. But we’ve got two or three other officers who are interested in it, so we’ll get them certified as soon as we can,” said McLaughlin.
Dalton, who worked as a seasonal bike cop in Bethany Beach before joining the OVPD, was certified through the International Police Mountain Bike Association.
“That’s a certification Chief wants everyone to have, for liability purposes, too. It teaches you how to use the bike, riding it, the components of the bike, so if it breaks you have an idea of what’s going on. Then you go for a ride to make sure you’re physically fit to do it. If you’re in an altercation, they teach you how to use your bike as a barrier. It goes through a lot of stuff.”
McLaughlin said that, while other officers have voiced interest in becoming certified, he doesn’t foresee the department purchasing more bikes, as it is an overtime patrol.
Dalton said the patrol is a great way to patrol the Assawoman Canal area, John West Park and some of the town’s other areas.
“When we host community events or if there are events in the area, we’ll probably be out there on the bikes.”
“We’re going to be out there, trying to stay as visible as we can in the community. If everything goes right, do more talking and less riding. The goal is for them to stop by John West Park, for example, get off the bike and interact with the community,” added McLaughlin.
The bike patrol will also be at the department’s annual bicycle safety checkpoint, scheduled for Thursday, June 29, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. in the Taylor Bank parking lot. Hogs for Heroes recently donated $300 to the department to help it purchase bicycle light kits for the checkpoint. Since the program’s start in 2006, the department has installed more than 750 lights.
Dalton said a number of local agencies have bike patrols, including the Dagsboro Police Department.
“I hope more agencies do get it, just to get out there and be seen. You’re more approachable on a bike than you are in a car. The car can be intimidating, especially if you have your windows rolled up. If you see someone on a bike, you can at least call out to them and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ With the car, people don’t know how to approach the vehicle.”
She said she’s excited for the community to be able to interact with the officers in a different way.
“I think community policing goes a long way. You have a positive attitude toward the people who you are, obviously, supposed to be protecting. And when push comes to shove and you’re in a jam, those people will be there for you. Chief has seen that happen in the past.”
“Combating crime isn’t just a job for the police — it’s for everybody. We believe that we’re all one big team that’s working together to keep the community safe,” McLaughlin said. “You can pick up any magazine or any law-enforcement periodical and you’ll see, ‘community policing, community policing, community policing.’ Places like Baltimore, Chicago, Wilmington, are hiring experts to come in and say, ‘You have to get back to community policing, because it is important. You have to be able to interact with the community. You have to have relationships with the community in order to be effective.’
“I tell our folks all the time, community policing is our bread and butter. It’s what we do. I think we’ve been successful at it and, in return, we’ve fostered outstanding relationships with our residents, our visitors and our business community. It works very well for us.”
Dalton said she is excited to have helped start this endeavor at the department and is looking forward to interacting with more citizens in the community.
“I love it. It’s nice. It’s a good change of pace. You’re, one, exercising — which in this profession you need to be physically fit — and you’re doing your job at the same time,” she said. “If you see me out there or any of us out there, stop us and say hi. Be sure to wave, and we’ll wave back. That’s the whole point.”