EAST PROVIDENCE — Around in varying ways for a while, the East Providence Police Department’s three-man bicycle patrol unit has now become fully functional, pedaling its way to special events and daily dispatches.
The bike patrol consists of two riders — Officers Andy Benoit and Dennis Medeiros — working in concert with another officer, Richard Cordeiro, driving a traditional police cruiser. The patrol is an integrated part of the EPPD’s Community Policing program. It costs no extra money to the taxpayers. The officers ride bikes instead of driving in cars. And it’s a year-round program, weather permitting.
“The idea of community policing is interacting with the public more, and the bikes allow us easier access to people, more face-to-face time,” said Officer Benoit. “I definitely think we’re more easily approachable being on the bikes instead of being in the cruisers. People see us on the bikes and they ask us questions. It starts up a conversation and let’s them know we’re out there.”
Earlier this summer, Officers Benoit and Medeiros each completed a one-week training session in Bristol on their multi-geared mountain bikes. They spent four days and 32 hours learning the intricacies of riding with respect to law enforcement.
“They taught us tactics, how to maneuver in crowds, how to ride stairs, deal with traffic. It was really comprehensive,” said Officer Benoit. “They taught us how to utilize all the gears in the bike so we can ride without tiring ourselves out.”
The bike patrol officers are armed and use most, if not all, of the same equipment as they would if they were driving in cars. The biggest differences between them and the other officers is in their attire. The riders wear bicycle shirts, shorts and shoes as well as the mandatory helmet.
“I think it’s helped our presence in the community. We have a different uniform. We can interact differently being on the bikes,” said Officer Benoit. “It seems like people approach us more easily in these uniforms instead of when we’re in our dress grays. The intimidation factor isn’t there as much.”
Officers Benoit and Medeiros have already become a visible presence on the sections of the East Bay Bike Path in the city. They’ve also helped patrol the larger public gatherings that take place each summer.
“The bikes really help us patrol things like feasts, Heritage Days, the bike paths — the north and south sections — and in the housing complexes,” said Officer Benoit. “Any special event where there needs to be a patrol, it’s a lot easier for us to get around on the bikes, especially in a congested place like Heritage Days. We can get from one end to the other a lot quicker than if we were in a cruiser.”
Added Officer Medeiros, “One of the most important things is people are beginning to recognize us, especially the teenagers. They know we have police on bikes now, so they know we’re going to actually be on the bikes paths, at the basketball courts, places where cruisers can’t go.”
Far from just a means of crowd control or a public relations initiative, the bicycle patrols should serve the department well in terms of every-day policing.
“The bike is really good to use in certain trouble spots, particularly when it comes to things like vandalism in neighborhoods,” said Officer Medeiros. “At sunset or in the early evening hours, we can be out there on patrol without being seen more easily than a cruiser.”
At times, being out of the car and more available physically to the public can pay dividends. It puts a human face on the officers who more often than not deal with the community in difficult circumstances.
“I think the really good thing is the public sees us in a different light,” said Officer Benoit. “Unfortunately, as police officers most of the time we deal with people on their worst days. In this way, it’s like the other side of the coin. We get to see people in a positive situation. We can strike up a conversation. It’s good for both sides.”
The officers feel the community, in general, has taken a liking to the program and so, too, have their superiors.
“Captain (Chris) Parella and Chief (Joseph) Tavares have both been strong advocates of the program. We probably wouldn’t have it if it wasn’t for the Captain and the Chief also been helpful. I think they both see the benefits of it.”