Bikes break down barriers
Bicycle Colorado’s education department is working on a very unique Safe Routes to School (SRTS) project in the City of Sheridan this spring. The program is geared towards making biking and walking a safer and more regular activity for students from kindergarten to eighth grade.
What separates this program from most is the investment of the local police department. I recently had the opportunity to teach alongside Sergeant Keith Lane, who started the Sheridan Bicycle Patrol Unit back in 2011, just a year after he joined the Sheridan Police Department. One goal of the program is for Bicycle Colorado to train the bike unit to continue education, encouragement and outreach in the Sheridan schools and community beyond this school year.
Fear of police
When Lane first joined the force in Sheridan, he noticed that many families avoided interacting with the police, and he knows that fear and avoidance can trickle down to kids. He found that many of the kids in the area were hesitant to talk to him.
“That is changing,” Lane said. Bit by bit. He is convinced that the bike patrol unit is making the difference. The unit currently has four officers, with a fifth joining mid-summer. The SRTS program is one way for the police department to reach out to students and their families in a positive way.
Bikes are better
Police on bikes are able to access areas that cars can’t, such as the Mary Carter Greenway and the Bear Creek Trail, two major multi-use paths that pass through the city. Crime has gone down in these areas. The bikes often allow police to catch people in the act of a crime more easily than if they were in a police car. Police on bikes can cruise through neighborhoods when the weather is nice, and when time allows, they stop to visit with those around them. They have developed relationships with the residents, especially with children and senior citizens.
The bike patrol works from May through September—and at other times as weather allows—so people have become used to seeing and interacting with police in their neighborhoods. Children have been looking for the bike patrol in their neighborhoods, and they have started to trust Lane and his team. If the bike patrol is out on a call and misses their nightly rounds, the children ask where they have been.
The bike unit also rewards children who are “caught” doing good things with coupons for free Slurpees at one of the three Sheridan 7-Eleven stores. The police department and 7-Eleven are partnering on a project called Operation Big Chill. Using crosswalks, wearing helmets and picking up trash are a few things Lane has rewarded kids for.
Connecting with kids
Sergeant Lane is very excited about working with students in their school setting (we taught together in student’s regularly scheduled PE classes). His favorite part of the middle school program at Fort Logan Northgate was the bicycle rodeo. Bike police officers have to pass a very rigorous course to get their International Police Mountain Bike Association certification, and Lane enjoyed teaching kids the basics of how to ride safely through the rodeo.
Lane also mentioned that he recognized many of the students, and that they weren’t afraid to come talk to him at school. I noticed that they listened very attentively to him and were mesmerized by his police bike and other equipment. He had their utmost respect and seemed to be making fast friends. And we all know how tricky it can be to reach a middle school student.
The Sheridan Police Bike Patrol Unit will be working with the schools and Bicycle Colorado to promote safe walking and biking during Walkin’ & Wheelin’ Week from May 26-29. Students and their families are encouraged to walk, bike, skateboard or ride a scooter to school and are eligible to win prizes for participation. The bike unit plans to be out in full force that week, riding with the kids, keeping an eye on traffic and practicing what they preach.