Winters police now patrolling on two wheels

Winters police officers are now patrolling the community on two wheels instead of four.

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The siren may sound a bit cheesy like a child’s toy, but those flashing red and blue lights (albeit small ones) demand the same respect as the ones on a police cruiser light bar. Yes, Winters police officers are now patrolling on bicycles.

The first bike patrol in Winters Police Department history debuted in August, under the guidance of Sergeant Kelly Schroeder, who did several years of bike patrol in the city of Vallejo. Officer David Gonzalez is the designated “bike cop” for Winters, and can be seen cruising around town on a specially made Marin Bobcat mountain bike that is made for the task and comes complete with emergency first aid “trauma packs” and tools. Besides Gonzalez, Reserve Officer Jeff Stanton will also be seen on two wheels around town.

Police Chief John Miller says plans for a Winters bike patrol began a year ago, and the cost of the program was already within the police department’s budget, and Schroeder’s extensive experience with bike patrol streamlined he process all the more. Schroeder was more than willing to participate in creating the program.

“I’d been on bike patrol before, and without hesitation, I said ‘yes’,” says Schroeder, who served as the supervisor of his Vallejo unit.

After completing specialized training, Gonzalez made his first official appearance as Winters’ bike cop at the National Night Out event earlier this month. Amongst his training challenges, says Gonzalez, was learning to get on and off the bike quickly and safely, with all the usual police gear strapped on. The 40-hour training also covered how to navigate hills and stairs, as well as police maneuvers designed for bike cops who may need to stop a car or another bicycle.

Why go through all this extra work, and also dedicate oneself to riding in the baking summer heat and chilling winter cold? Gonzalez says it was an opportunity to “try something different and expand my career.”

“Riding a bike was always a fun thing to me, so it was a no-brainer,” he says.

So far, community response to the new bike patrol has been “overwhelmingly positive,” says Miller. He notes that officers on bicycles have a much easier time interacting with the public, as well as noticing suspicious sights and sounds, on a bicycle as compared to being surrounded by a relatively insulated vehicle.

“It removes that physical barrier,” notes Schroeder. “It takes away that sheet metal all the way around you.”

Bicycle patrol is a more “community centered” way to patrol than in a vehicle, he says, and allows officers to do more outreach in the community. As for the bike officers themselves, there are advantages as well.

“Time slows down a little,” adds Gonzalez. “You move at a slower pace, and can see and smell things. People are more likely to talk to you.”

He adds that the bicycle itself is an attraction for youngsters.

“Kids can see how cool a police bike is.”

“Bikes are a good community outreach tool,” summarizes Miller.

Besides offering more direct contact with people and situations, a bicycle allows officers to go places where a patrol car can’t go, such as the walking path in the Putah Creek Nature Park, school campuses, or in between buildings, such as in an apartment complex.

Winters police officers Jeff Stanton (left) and David Gonzalez did their first Earthquake Street Festival bicycle patrol on Friday, Aug. 25. Photo by Debra DeAngelo

Winters residents can expect to see the bike cops at all sorts of local events, including the Earthquake Festival, Youth Day, Fourth Friday Feasts and church parades. Clearly, as packed as those events can become, it’s much easier and safer for an officer to navigate crowded situations on a bicycle than it would be in a vehicle.

“We can better serve the community at special events,” says Miller.

Although the bike officers seem much more approachable than officers in big, intimidating vehicles, they are still full-fledged police officers and must be obeyed just like officers behind the wheel. The bike police are authorized to go anywhere a police vehicle would go, and then some.

And that includes pulling you over if you blow through a stop sign. The officer may be on only two wheels, but his citation book is just like the ones carried in patrol vehicles, and will cost you just as much.

For more information about the bike patrol program, call the Winters Police Department, 795-2261.

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