Ithaca, N.Y. — With his bulging biceps, mohawk haircut and criss-crossing tattoos, Officer Brandon Goldsberry may not fit the stereotypical image of a bike cop.
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But there he was anyway late Wednesday night, speaking in front of a crowd of 25 people as part of the Citizens’ Police Academy, waxing poetic on the unexpected virtues of patrolling Ithaca via mountain bike.
“An officer riding a bike has a powerful, powerful, powerful impact on the community,” says Goldsberry, an Iraq war veteran who says he has fallen in love with the city of Ithaca. “… I think it’s an important thing to do.”
Goldsberry and Sgt. Robert Brotherton spoke at the police academy about the bike unit, with Brotherton noting that the Finger Lakes Police Mountain Bike Association began in 1991 — years before police biking became adopted across other parts of the country.
“We can put four officers into a parking spot and have them pedal around without falling — on a full-sized mountain bike,” Brotherton said.
Goldsberry went next, and ticked through many reasons why being a bike cop is actually a sometimes more effective way of policing.
Here are five of the reasons “the bike is an awesome tool,” according to Goldsberry:
1 — “Bikes are less threatening and more inviting’
Bike officers, Goldsberry says, can help “counter this stereotype … that officers are encased in steel” vehicles, unexposed to and separate from the public.
“When you’re out there, people see you and they’re more inclined to talk to you; they’re more inclined to wave you down,” Goldsberry says.
“It puts you on the same plane as a citizen, where (officers) should be.”
2 — “Cyclists are more accepting of bike patrol officers”
Bike cops get more respect when pulling over their fellow cyclists than officers do when pulling over cyclists while in patrol cars.
Sometimes when stopping a bike while in a patrol vehicle, Goldberry says, he’ll get attitude or flack from the biker. That’s much less likely to be the case when he pulls over a biker while also on a bike, he said.
3 — Stealth operations
Bike officers “are more innocuous — suspects generally don’t expect an officer on a bike,” Goldsberry says.
Goldsberry talked about stealthily approaching suspects who are drinking beer or using heroin. “You roll up and they don’t expect you,” he said. “They may be in the middle of a drug deal; they might be in the middle of a fight.”
4 — Going where cars can’t
Bike cops can get down back alleys or even upstairs and down other paths that patrol cars can’t, Goldsberry says. That’s already proved a major asset during his policing, he said.
“We can skirt down back alley ways we can get where we need to be quicker,” he says. “I can get there pretty quick.”
Goldsberry talked about a recent petit larceny arrest, in which a fleeing suspect gave up rather than try to out-run the bicycle.
5 — Health, environmental benefits
Goldsberry also touted the benefits both to cops’ health and to the environment from bike patrols. “Your carbon footprint is a whole lot smaller,” he said.
They also help police — and, therefore, the public — save money, according to Goldsberry.
“Wherever the officer’s legs will take you, you can go,” he said.