CEDARBURG — As a kid growing up in Grafton, Casey Ward would tool around the streets and trails on his bicycle, sometimes meeting up with his good friend in Cedarburg.
Today, a grown-up Ward can still be found riding his bike around Cedarburg, but in a bright yellow T-shirt and other gear required of a Cedarburg police officer.
“It’s just about being visible. And crime prevention. And being seen helps that,” said Ward, who has been a Cedarburg officer for five years. “And also just being accessible, where if someone needs something, they might be able to see you around and say something to you.”
Ward is one of five officers with the Cedarburg Police Department who patrol the city on two wheels and is part of a growing trend among other departments around southern Ozaukee County.
The Mequon Police Department is reviving its bike patrol unit after nearly a decade of inactivity and in June, deployed officer Austin Boinski to the unit. Mequon Police Sgt. Ben Heinen said the city started the unit in 2004 and had five officers on it, but by 2012, all of the officers had either retired or were promoted.
Staffing challenges kept it dormant until recently, when a full roster made more officers available.
Heinen, himself a member of the bike patrol unit for four years, is now working to redeploy it as a way to connect with the community, he said.
Cedarburg Police Chief Tom Frank said having officers on bikes is just another opportunity for officers to have positive contact with citizens.
“People are more likely to talk with an officer as they ride through the downtown area, parks or the Interurban Trail,” Frank said. “It’s a great way to approach kids and discuss issues like bike safety.”
The program is an especially good fit for Cedarburg, where pedestrians and bicyclists are prevalent.
Bike officers can simply move around more easily than an officer in a car and connect more directly with citizens. And that is especially true at events like the Cedarburg festivals, the Ozaukee County Fair and Maxwell Street Days.
They often play more of an ambassador role than a law enforcement one.
“Bike officers focus on having positive police community interactions in terms of simply stopping to say hello, handing out stickers to kids, providing bike and community safety information and being easy to approach or flag down about problems in a neighborhood or any other community needs,” Heinen said.
In Thiensville, Police Chief Curt Kleppin himself can be found patrolling the streets on two wheels, especially during special events. The department has two bicycles set up for patrol.
“I can tell you that I truly enjoy riding the bike. It allows me to interact with residents, business owners and visitors who visit Thiensville,” Kleppin said. “The feedback that I have received from the public is very positive. They like to see police officers out and about in the community on bikes.”
Grafton is working on creating a bicycle unit and even has Officer Andy Mammen assigned to it, said Police Chief Jeff Caponera. But staffing shortages have kept him from getting on the bike.
“We do have it in our strategic plan to add another officer so we can officially say we have a ‘bicycle unit,’” Caponera said. “That will be discussed in the upcoming budget cycle.”
In Cedarburg and Mequon, officers frequently patrol the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. Ward said it lets people feel safe there, and allows police to look for any suspicious behavior and make sure cyclists and cars at the trail intersections are following the rules.
The Mequon officers were also historically deployed in neighborhoods or subdivisions that were experiencing an uptick in problems such as damage to property or thefts, Heinen said. They are now adding Spur 16, the Mequon Town Center, parking areas and surrounding Mequon neighborhoods to their beat. “The goal is to deploy the bicycle officers in high pedestrian and cyclist traffic areas in order to increase visibility and contacts,” Heinen said.
Ward said officers in the bike unit put in about four hours a shift and estimates about 15 to 20 miles. Neither he nor Heinen have a background in anything more than casual biking, and that is all that’s really needed. The worst either has encountered is a little soreness after a shift.
Bicycle officers have arrest capabilities — and are even equipped with small flashing red and blue emergency lights — but it is rare that they will actually apprehend someone.
“I have stopped a car before,” Ward said. “I guess I was just surprised someone actually stopped.”