When Sgt. Leo Castro is on patrol in St. Paul, he doesn’t need to roll down the window to get fresh air.
That’s because he’s clipped into the pedals of a Cannondale mountain bike, traveling the streets on a pair of 26-inch wheels to monitor busy boarding locations and respond when needed.
Castro and other Metro Transit Police Department officers will be getting even more time in the open air when the METRO Green Line begins service on June 14.
Because the light-rail line runs through two downtowns, the University of Minnesota and a busy commercial corridor, Transit Police will be riding bikes, patrolling on foot and spending time aboard buses and trains so they can have more mobility and respond as quickly as possible.
“As a bike officer, we can get to certain areas where a squad car can’t go and get there a lot more quickly,” Castro said. “Even in rush hour we can cover three or four blocks in a couple of minutes.”
In 2010, Castro became the first Metro Transit police officer to get trained and certified as a bike patrol officer. Today, he leads a unit of 16 officers who split time between their bikes and a squad car. Bike officers will also load their bikes on bus racks and bring them on trains while doing fare checks and other on-board policing.
As part of their basic training, bike officers are taught how to ride up and down stairs, dismount and make arrests and navigate safely through traffic and large crowds. Transit Police also recently participated in “Bike Rapid Response” training with the Minneapolis Police Department to learn how bikes can be used to calm crowds during large events, such as the MLB All-Star Game.
Officer Daniel Wallace is part of the department’s newest class of bike officers and comes with two years of previous experience patrolling the Mall of America by bike. Wallace said one of the biggest challenges to patrolling on a bike is carrying all of the gear. A “duty belt” with a radio and other equipment weighs around 30 pounds.
“Once you learn how to ride you never forget,” Wallace said. “But doing it with all the equipment is a little more of a challenge.”
Bike patrols primarily take place in the spring and summer, but officers aren't afraid to go out in difficult weather conditions, including ice, snow and rain.
While physically demanding, Officer Kelly Franco sought a spot on the bike unit because it offered variety and a unique opportunity to interact more with the public.
“When you’re in a squad car, the majority of the time you’re going from call to call,” she said. “But when you’re on bike patrol you’re mingling and interacting with people and other bike riders so you get to see a different perspective.”
In his experience on the street, Castro said being on a bike has allowed him to quickly identify and apprehend suspects, respond to medical emergencies and generally be more proactive about quality of life issues such as loitering.
Being on a bike has also been a great way to combine his interest in biking with his job and public service, said Castro, the department’s 2010 Officer of the Year.
“I’m passionate about bikes, but I’m equally passionate about community-oriented policing,” he said. “Really, that’s what this is all about.”
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