Police bike patrols return to streets

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— Bike cops have taken to the streets of Steamboat Springs.

For about a month, five members of the Steamboat Springs Police Department have been cruising Old Town and the Yampa River Core Trail. Different than the yellow-shirted community service officers, these bike cops are armed and can make arrests.

Assistant Police Chief Art Fiebing said the city's bike patrol can go places police in vehicles cannot, are easily approachable and at night have an easier chance of going undetected.

"It is great public relations. You can catch a lot of bad guys and they look cool," Fiebing said.

Police Officer Debbie Funston worked as a bike police officer in Montrose and was part of the team that started in Steamboat. When the downtown area gets crowded during the summer and traffic is at gridlock, bikes are more efficient than vehicles, she said.

The bike patrol has worked during the Fourth of July fireworks show, the Pro Rodeo Series and the city's free summer concerts.

"The main thing is the city becomes so congested and using a bike, you are certainly able to maneuver around town much easier," Funston said.

Being on a bike also makes police officers more approachable, Funston said. Police officers on bikes are not as intimidating and can develop better relationships with downtown business owners and patrons.

Officers can also patrol areas on bike where vehicles have trouble going, such as the bike path, the Howelsen Hill Sports Complex and along the river.

Sgt. Rich Brown is overseeing the bike patrol. Police Officers Damian Baynes, Josh Carroll and Jeff Thalmayer are also on the bike patrol.

The police department does not have a bike officer on duty all the time. If more than two officers are on duty, Funston said one of the five officers could be on bikes. The officers also stay in a radius where they can quickly get to a vehicle if needed.

During the day, the bike patrol can be used for traffic control, to take accident reports and for patrolling high traffic areas.

Fiebing said the officers who work at night have been able to catch crimes in progress because police officers on bikes are often hard to spot.

"Most of the time, they are not looking for someone to ride up on bikes. It is certainly a lot quieter approach," Funston said.

A bike program has been in place in the city before, but died down over the years. This year, the police department received a grant covering the start-up costs allowing the department to revive the program.

Three of the police officers--Baynes, Carroll and Thalmayer--attended a 40-hour bike course this summer to train for the position.

Funston did not go to that course, but was trained as part of the Montrose force. She said the main focus is safety for officers, who can be more vulnerable on bikes.

They also learned how to care for their bikes and technical maneuvers like riding through traffic, over curves and down stairs.

A recreational mountain biker, Funston said being on a bike is a perk of the job.

"I am doing something physical that I enjoy," she said. "And, you really are getting the chance, on a bike, to do something different. It breaks up our job and is a different type of enforcement."

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