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Archive for Thursday, July 22, 1999

DEPARTMENT PATROLING CITY WITH BICYCLES OTTAWA POLICE OFFICERS ON ROLL

July 22, 1999

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— The Ottawa Police Department is using bicycle patrols in all areas of the city, when manpower allows.

The police department here has a new tool in fighting crime and it's pedal-powered.

About a month ago, the department began bicycle patrols as part of the national community policing initiative popular among many departments.

And the new program has had an immediate impact, Ottawa officers said.

On officer Adam Weingartner's first day on his police bicycle, he noticed two women on Ottawa's rails to trails bike path.

"They were standing there smoking marijuana. They didn't see me at all. I just came right up on them and arrested them," Weingartner said.

When manpower allows, officers spend about half a shift riding the bicycles in various areas around town.

"Normally, we try to concentrate on the areas where we have had a lot of crime," said Capt. Charles Bowling. "It's a lot easier to hide a bike on a stakeout than a car."

Officers said many Ottawa residents haven't yet noticed the bicycle patrols.

"People are unfamiliar with it now, but they will catch on, sooner or later," Bowling said.

Several downtown business owners and customers proved Bowling's theory correct.

None of them knew that the police department had started bicycle patrols.

"Anybody heard about the police department starting to ride bikes?" yelled a hairdresser at Guys & Dolls Hair Fashions.

None of the other hairdressers or customers responded.

"I haven't heard anything about it," said Pat Atchison, administrative assistant at the Kansas National Education Assn., located downtown.

After the department purchased the two 21-speed Trek mountain bikes from Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop in Lawrence, Bowling asked for officer volunteers to ride them while on duty.

Weingartner, 28, said he enjoys the maneuverability of being on a bicycle, and being able to get closer to residents.

"When your on the bike, you can get a little closer to people and stop and have a conversation, instead of just waving when you're in a car," he said.

Also, he said, "I think we're a little bit more approachable to people."

Lawrence police began bicycle patrols -- mainly in the downtown area -- in 1991, said police spokesman Sgt. George Wheeler.

Lawrence police also for many years have had officers assigned on foot patrol in the downtown area, but Ottawa hasn't yet adopted that program, Bowling said.

-- Michael Dekker's phone message number is 832-7187. His e-mail address is mdekker@ljworld.com.

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