Major drop in thefts aided by bike patrol

Sporting navy blue shorts and black athletic shoes, Mississippi State's bicycle patrol may look more like "Baywatch" than "Robocop," but in one year the police officers have helped lower the number of thefts at the university by nearly 69 percent.

The bike patrol, which primarily works the night shift, rides through the state's largest campus on specially built 21-speed bicycles equipped with almost everything except a blue light. The three cyclists--Leon Ashford of Eupora, Garey Harrell of Maben and Stephen Phelps of Starkville--are fully commissioned police officers, although their participation in the two-wheel bike patrol is strictly voluntary.

University Police Chief John Moore said the patrol is designed to create a presence that can help deter law violators before they can act.

"In law enforcement, we always are looking at what works and what can be improved," Moore said. "We feel the bike patrol is one element that has greatly contributed to the reduction in larceny thefts last year."

In addition to the year-old bike patrol, the 28-member campus police force also has instituted other special details. Among them are the Bully Patrol, a nighttime student-staffed escort service operated with the Student Association, and the more traditional still watch, where patrol vehicles park in different areas for varying lengths of time.

But the bike patrol can go where no cars can and it can get there much faster than someone on foot.

"My bike can go most anywhere feet can," says Harrell. "I've found I can ride up or down seven steps or less without slowing down. And, by turning my headlights off, I can ride in and out of parking lots without a sound, surprising anyone who might be there.

"In fact, I haven't found a place on campus I can't go with this bike."

And, the officers have found, the sheer mobility of bike patrols brings them in contact with more members of the campus community than their automobile-bound colleagues. Not only that, the very non-traditional nature of two-wheel transportation tends to brings the curious out of the woodwork.

"I think community relations is one of the most important aspects of police work and this bike patrol really enhances those relations," said Moore. "It generates interest."

Harrell agrees, adding, "We're more approachable on the bikes and it gives us a chance to get out and talk to people, to build a rapport." So mobile is Harrell that he regularly dismounts the bike and walks it through the Colvard Union.

But it's not all public relations. Harrell has been involved in three suspect pursuits and was successful in each--including one involving a fleeing automobile.

According to Moore, department statistics indicate that the officers' late-night rides around campus are making would-be thieves think twice about breaking into cars or buildings. Because the bike patrol is so successful, the department is hoping to add more bikes and officers as funds become available, he added.

"There are three elements in criminal activities: the potential victim, the person willing to commit the offense and the opportunity," Moore said. "We believe our bike patrol works with the community to remove the opportunity."