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Officers Zach Peppelman (left) and Alex Nelson are two of the Minot Police Department bike patrol officers this summer.
It’s summer, and you know what that means. Yep, the Minot Police Department’s Bike Patrol Unit is back on the streets.
Minot currently has a six-person bike patrol unit; one lieutenant, one sergeant, and four officers. Members must have at least two years of experience with the Minot PD to apply. Bike patrol members are chosen after an interview process.
“I would say we have two goals in mind for the bike patrol. One, we want to have better access during public events, such as the North Dakota State Fair Parade and some events in the parks,” Minot Police Chief Jason Olson said. “Two, it allows us to have more up close interaction with the public and that serves a variety of purposes. It makes us much more accessible and approachable to the public, and that’s always a good thing.”
And, yes, they are real cops.
Members of the patrol must be certified by completing a 32-hour course with the International Police Mountain Bike Association. This spring, an instructor from the IPMBA conducted the training in Minot. Patrol members took part in riding drills on an obstacle course, practiced dismounts and dealing with suspects while on the bike, and firing their weapons while on the bike.
The Minot PD has been using the bike patrol for at least 20 years, Olson said, although the frequency of bike patrol shifts has decreased in recent years.
“We used to have bike patrol shifts every day, but the last two years I’m guessing we’ve averaged only about five nights per month with having bike patrol shifts,” Olson said. “A lot of our field training officers are also the officers that are certified as bike officers, but with our higher turnover rates, those officers haven’t been able to take bike patrol shifts because they’re constantly out in the field training new officers. Right now we have seven new officers, so our training officers are busy for 12 weeks.”
The bike patrol is used only when there’s adequate staffing. Right now, the patrol is working a 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift when there is staffing overlap between the afternoon and night shifts. The patrol is generally used from early summer through September or maybe into October, depending on the weather.
Officer Alex Nelson recently began his first season on bike patrol.
“When I first started with the PD, I wasn’t at all interested in bike patrol. It’s not what I thought police work should be. I wanted to be in a police car. But then I saw that officers on bike patrol were making lots of arrests, and I’ve changed my mind completely,” he said.
Nelson said he enjoys being outdoors and the benefits of the exercise while riding bike, but he also likes the ability to get up close and personal with the public.
“You have a different tactical advantage on a bike. When someone is vandalizing a car or a building, the last thing they’re thinking about is a cop on a bike rolling up on them. I like that,” he said. “We know where the drug houses are in town, and we can get close to them before anyone realizes we’re police officers. Especially at night, we can blend into the surroundings a lot easier than a car.”
Officer Zach Peppelman, also in his first year on bike patrol, said he remembers seeing the bike patrol officers when he was a kid.
“It’s always interested me. I think it’s a cool approach to police work. It gives us the opportunity to interact more with the public, and people aren’t as afraid to approach us when we’re on bikes,” he said. “It’s also easier for us to focus on certain areas, like downtown where we do a lot of business checks at night and the parks.”
Both officers agreed that using bikes leads to distinct advantages, despite a few small disadvantages.
“We deal with suspects in cars a lot, and we’re on bikes, so that can make you a little more vulnerable,” Nelson said. “But we can also help other patrol units. If they have a suspect surrounded in an area, we can help officers who are on foot. We can cover a lot of ground on the bikes.”
“If we’re the only units available to respond, obviously it’s going to take us a little bit longer to get to a scene than if we were in a car,” he said. “We’re able to set up out of view and we’re a lot quieter than a car so we can approach a location with a little more stealth. You’re a little more vulnerable on a bike, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.”
The bikes are equipped with a headlight and tail light, flashing red, white, blue lights, and a siren. The officers said they’re already enjoying the bike patrol, even though it took a little getting used to at the beginning.
“Riding bike with all the gear we wear is like learning to ride all over again,” Nelson said. “It completely changes your center of gravity and it takes some time to get used to the extra weight of the gear.”
Olson agreed that the advantages of the bike patrol officers definitely outweigh any negatives.
“It’s an advantage in that you’re able to potentially ride up on a burglary in progress, or respond to a noise disturbance or loud party call with a little more stealth so everyone doesn’t scatter when you get there,” he said. “There might be times when bike patrol can’t apprehend someone who takes off in a car, but our officers always work together so they’d be able to radio to other units who could assist in stopping a vehicle.”