By Scott Prater | Mountaineer staff
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Attendees at this year’s Freedom Fest may have noticed a few Military Police (MP) officers roaming the grounds at Iron Horse Park. They were probably hard to miss in their fluorescent green or yellow shirts and bicycle shorts.
Freedom Fest wasn’t just a one-off effort for the officers either. Mountain Post housing residents have seen them riding along neighborhood streets pretty much all summer. They’re known as the Fort Carson Police Department Bike Patrol, and they’ll be patrolling the cantonment area, post parks, shopping areas and, of course, neighborhood streets through mid-September.
“We started the Bike Patrol on June 8 and will continue operations through the summer,” said Capt. Brandon Graber, chief, patrol operations, Fort Carson Police Department (FCPD). “This is not a pilot program. We’ll start back up next summer as well, and every summer after, as long as we can keep the program funded.”
The group consists of 12 officers, who are a mix of MPs and civilian officers, according to 1st. Lt. John Domby, officer in charge of the bike patrol, FCPD.
“This a special task force created for police officers to go out and engage in the community,” he said. “Our main mission is to build relationships with community members, build trust and help the community in any way we can.”
Police officers can often be intimidating to people, especially if they are patrolling in vehicles, but officers on bicycles tend to be more approachable, especially as they engage with neighborhood children and adult residents.
“The idea is to engage and educate, play with the children, help community members put faces with names,” Graber said. “We do have a secondary mission of ensuring the commanding general’s policy of prohibiting TA-50 gear from being stored in vehicles, but even then, our officers will often simply notify unit leadership when they see such instances. We don’t want vehicles being broken into just so offenders can obtain TA-50.”
This season’s bike patrol officers were selected from MP corps and civilian members who volunteered for the duty. Domby said once members are selected, they then complete an International Mountain Bike Police Association course before being trained on urban and off-road riding techniques, nutrition and bike repairs.
“These officers enjoy engaging with people, interacting with kids in the neighborhood and building relationships with people,” he said. “Of course, there is the added benefit of improved physical fitness.”
The patrol operates Tuesday through Saturday, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. each week. Officers meet for a shift briefing at the Fort Carson Police Station, then head out to the neighborhoods. Typically, two teams patrol in different neighborhoods at one time, while an NCOIC supports the teams from a traveling van, providing water, equipment and any needed parts and supplies.
Reception of the new task force has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve received a lot of feedback,” Graber said. “People love seeing the bike patrol officers out in the neighborhoods. We’ve received a ton of positive Interactive Customer Evaluation comments, and people have been posting their pictures of the team on social media.”
Word of the patrol’s success has reached Army installations from Texas and as far away as Hawaii. Installation police departments there have said they hope to use Fort Carson’s bike patrol as a model for their own future efforts.
Considering that all the bike patrol officers are experienced vehicle patrol officers, they have a unique perspective on the different forms of police work.
“I tend to notice things much better from the bike,” said Spc. Oscar Montelongo, an MP and patrol officer, FCPD. “When you’re sitting in a car, you may be able to see a group of people talking, but you’ve got all the noise from the car engine, so its impossible to hear, even if they’re close by.”
By design, patrolling on a bike not only puts officers in much closer proximity to people, but it also tends to put people more at ease with officers.
“When I’m patrolling in a vehicle, people rarely engage me,” said Pfc. Bosstian Blanchard, an MP and patrol officer, FCPD. “But, when I’m on the bike, people want to talk. They ask about the bikes and if riding is more physically demanding. They’ll talk about the neighborhood, or just randomly chit chat. Really, we like talking to community members. This is the best job I’ve had so far as an MP.”
People who would like to meet the team have an opportunity coming up, as the Directorate of Emergency Services hosts National Night Out at Soldiers Memorial Chapel Aug. 3. Various entities, including Fort Carson Fire and Police departments, will be on hand from 4 to 8 p.m. to showcase their vehicles and equipment, educate community members about their programs and conduct demonstrations of their capabilities.