Sarasota Police Department officers use mountain bikes to get around the city.
In Sarasota, police officers aren’t bound to cars or their feet while on patrol.
One of their favorite alternate forms of transportation is the mountain bike.
Brought to the force eight years ago by Lt. Jason Reed, officers are able to go through a 40-hour training course from the International Police Mountain Bike Association that allows them to ditch four wheels for two while on duty.
About 40 Sarasota officers take part in the bike patrol, riding one of 27 bikes in the fleet. Each bike costs about $1,500 fully equipped.
“A mountain bike is designed for the rider to be able to navigate different obstacles and have more body movement,” Reed said. “So it’s perfect for law enforcement use.”
In November 2019, Reed led his latest group of trainees through the program. While the course focuses half on book work, it also requires the officers get out into the city for a hands-on approach on how to properly use their bikes to their maximum advantage.
There are 26 skill courses that the officers must master during the training, ranging from how to safely navigate a curb to how to dodge obstacles in the road.
One of the stations recently led the officers to the Van Wezel, where they used the iconic purple building as an obstacle course. In a video posted to the police department’s Twitter account, you can see the officers ride their bikes up a rounded staircase, along a zigzagging ramp and down the back entrance staircase.
In addition to staircases, the course shows officers how to navigate sidewalks and potholes.
Among all of the skill sets, learning how to do three complete circles in a 9-foot box without putting their foot down is among the hardest, Reed said.
Reed first participated in the program in 2010 after he took up trail riding in his free time. When he found out he could bring his love of mountain biking to work with him, he knew he had to participate in the training.
“I actually had never considered bicycling either on duty or off duty as something I would want to do, and then a friend of mine introduced me to trail ride mountain biking, and it was so much fun,” Reed said.
“It became a big part of my life for fitness and just as an activity. … I didn’t know much about the program, so I just started inquiring about it, and I felt like I wanted to spend some time on the bicycle at work since I was enjoying it off duty so much.”
In 2012 he received his certification to teach the course and has taught nearly 120 officers at multiple locations around Florida.
The mountain bikes can be used anywhere in an officer’s zone assignment and can always be found at Sarasota events, such as the downtown holiday parade or New Year’s Eve Pineapple Drop.
Other than moving quickly in tight spaces, Reed said riding a bike allows officers to better connect with people and surroundings.
“The other large aspect of the bikes is whether officers are performing a law enforcement function or not, they come in contact with so many more citizens,” Reed said. “They’re always approached by people who want to ask them about bicycling and the program, even the equipment that they use. So that gives a lot of positive contact with the community.”