March 18, 2014 | Vol. 74 No. 35

Lack of bike police hamper Zone 3's abilitity to tackle quality of life issues

The ability of police to patrol some neighborhoods in Zone 3district could be hampered due to changes in staffing at the station.

With approaching better weather, Zone 3 Commander Catherine McNeilly had a plan to resume bike patrols in the South Side, Allentown and Carrick neighborhoods. Those plans had to be scrapped when one bike officer retired and another was transferred to Zone 2 leaving only two bike police left in the zone.

Last year in particular, the bike police were able to address quality of life issues in several neighborhoods. Although much of Pittsburgh’s terrain isn’t conducive to patrolling by bicycle, the South Side Flats, Warrington Avenue and Brownsville Road and their nearby streets are ideal for the pedaling police.

“Officers on bikes are just so very effective,” Commander McNeilly said.

She explained putting officers on foot patrol can sometimes be too slow; although walking can be good in the proper environment; cars on patrol can be good in the right environment; bikes on the other hand, are good in any environment.

She noted there are many neighborhoods in the city that have a challenge using bicycles, but in Zone 3 they have been found to be valuable in many of the district’s 14 neighborhoods. They are able to move quickly and quietly through some of the narrow and congested streets in the communities.

The commander said the bike police are also effective Downtown, in the Strip District, Oakland and can be around Grandview Avenue in Mount Washington.

Other areas were they would be less effective are places like Brookline Blvd., which is wide enough to allow police cars to navigate it easily. Beechview Blvd. is similar with its wide road surface.

“If our bicycle (officers) are dwindling, then take them from the zones that have the least use for them,” Commander McNeilly said while acknowledging Zone 2 needed another officer because one of their bike officers retired.

“I have a plan up here that was very effective,” she said.

The commander said she nominated her bike officers for a department Meritorious Award for addressing panhandling in South Side and Allentown. Not only were they able to cite the offenders, but they followed up resulting in arrests when it was appropriate.

“They have the time to do that where (officers in cars) are so busy they don’t have the time to do anything but respond to calls,” she continued.

“I had a plan and a strategy,” the commander said. “Over the winter it kind of got destroyed.”

There are options to get the zone back to its full complement of bike officers. Commander McNeilly said they could do several different things:

One option is there are a number of police who were certified bike officers but have let their certification expire. They could be recertified at an accelerated pace and put back on two wheels.

The second option she discussed was that there are a number of new officers who are interested in becoming certified for bike service.

“There’s a whole slew of new officers that would love to be certified.”

She noted the officers use special bikes costing more than $1,000 each and there are extra bikes in storage, “just sitting there not being used.”

A third option is to transfer bike officers away from zones where they are less effective, such as Zone 6, and put them where they would be more effective, such as Zone 3.

“I make these suggestions,” the commander said. “I have for years.”

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