The Law Enforcement Bike School, created by a sergeant at Ithaca College in 1993, was recently recognized by the citizen-based organization Sustainable Tompkins for its initiative in helping to create more eco-friendly police squads by teaching law enforcement officers how to operate from mountain bikes. I sat down with David Dray, the assistant director and deputy chief of the college’s Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, to get an inside look at what the program is about and how prosperous it has been.
Kira Maddox: Who decided to put this program together?
David Dray: The original program started, it was a collaboration between Cornell and Ithaca College. In fact, one of our sergeants was one of the initiators of the program. He helped write the program along with a couple of the officers from Cornell and a couple of them from Ithaca Police Department. And what they initially wrote up became the statewide standards for the training of the program. So we’re very proud of that.
KM: Whom is the program geared toward? Is it only for people in the Police Academy?
DD: It’s actually geared towards any law enforcement, whether you’re from New York or any of the surrounding states. We’re trying to — I won’t say, ‘revamp,’ — but re-energize the program. Years ago, we used to get participants from police departments in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and even some from Canada and overseas. We’re hoping to get back to that, we’re trying to do a little bit more advertising. And as budgets get a little bit more constraint, and people become more conscientious about the environment, departments are looking more towards bike patrols.
KM: What is the training like that the officers undergo?
DD: The training is either four or five days long, depending on if the department that the officer comes from is armed … That adds the fifth day, because on the fifth day they actually go out to the firing range so that they know how to work the bikes … you have to be able to get off and manipulate your weapon. But the first four days is all surrounded about how to go around obstacles, how to interact with the public. That’s one of the main reasons why we like the program, the approachability. When an officer’s on a bike, or even on foot, they are much more approachable than if they’re just driving around in a vehicle.
KM: Could you give me a ballpark estimate for how many officers usually sign up for this program a year?
DD: We’re averaging between 20 and 25 students that we teach … We have the capacity that we could instruct up to 40 people per class, and that’s where we’d like to get back to.
While the program is held on the Ithaca College campus, the course itself is taught by not only members of the college’s Public Safety office, but also officers from Cornell University, the City of Ithaca Police Department and the City of Cortland Police Department. To-date, over half of the officers who work at Ithaca College are bike-certified, and they will typically spend up to 4 hours a day on bike while doing their patrol routes — which are the same as those of vehicle routes.