It's been almost a year since the Fort Wayne Police Department initiated the bicycle patrols in downtown Fort Wayne, and officials say the program is working according to plan.
Officers Dave Boles and Greg Woods patrol downtown Fort Wayne from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. The beat covers 1 square mile in downtown between Superior and Brackenridge streets to the north and south, and Clay Street to Broadway from east to west, respectively.
While the two officers most often ride bikes, they also patrol on foot, T3 personal transportation devices, or a Bobcat utility vehicle, depending upon the weather and areas they are working.
The first task of the day is to hit the main downtown Fort Wayne parks including Freimann Square and Headwaters. From there, the officers patrol the trails and neighborhoods.
Woods said on a typical day, the team can experience anything from suspicious people to a desk call from the downtown office. However, he said the simple impact of the regular patrols makes an impact in the community.
“People love seeing us down here," he said. "They interact with us when they see us on the bikes. They say, 'Thank you.' It's just a different approach as to being in a squad car enclosed and to being on a bike out free. It's a great program.”
Both officers agree that the patrol on a bike or in a car is completely different.
“Regular duties you are more responsive to the calls. You get a call and that's where you go. But in the downtown beat you ride, and people talk to you and ask you questions. They are more friendly and inquisitive,” he said.
While the beat involved a lot of friendly interaction, it's also a lot of work. The two can average 26 to 30 miles a day. On a busy day, even 40.
Boles knows his perimeter is busy, but that doesn't stop the team from going outside the area to help out.
“It's pretty busy, so that 1 square mile area is really good, but nothing stops us from going out if we are close by to help. While we are on the Greenway, we are scanning the (emergency communications) radio channel and if we are nearby we can cut back and help,” Boles said.
The patrol is intense as well; it involves keen observation skills. Each day is a different challenge.
One morning, the team happened upon a homeless man in an apparent diabetic episode and requested immediate medical backup. The team has also experienced anything from discarded or hidden drugs or paraphernalia to having to assist on a theft in progress.
Both Boles and Woods joked that the first days on the shift required a little extra rest at home.
It's all the day in the life of a downtown police team.
But the beat isn't year-round. The patrols continue until the weather becomes inclement, unless they discover they are needed in those conditions as well.
The officers use Raleigh or Cannondale police edition bikes. They also can be seen on the T3 person transportation device, which attract much attention. With the power to cruise at an average of 15 miles an hour and last an entire day, the machines only cost 8 cents a day since they run on batteries developed for NASA that last an average of six or seven years. The force owns three, which were purchased more than 10 years ago.
That's one great thing about the program: it doesn't cost taxpayers more. The equipment is there and the shift is a regular one for any officer assigned.
The program was launched last September by Mayor Tom Henry. He said the purpose of the program is to be visible, to patrol the 1-mile square area, to serve the residents and to keep things safe downtown.
Chief Deputy of the Fort Wayne Police Department Marty Bender said the program has been a success, and it has the potential to grow.
“There's more and more activities going on in the downtown area. We looked at doing this a few years ago, but the manpower was not there. Now, we can do this during the festival months. People are out more, and it makes a difference,” Bender said.
In addition to the regular patrols, the city also assigns officers to special night events, such as TinCaps baseball games, or the Three Rivers Festival. The officers believe that the addition to bike patrols helped to increase safety at large public events including TRF. At the festival earlier this month, Fort Wayne Police made only four arrests during the nine-day event.
No matter the assignment, whether festival or a regular day on the job, both Boles and Woods think the patrol makes a deep impact on the community.
“It's amazing to see people come off their porch to wave to you and say 'hi' and 'thank you,'” Woods said.