Challenge: Police districts spread across several miles made patrolling neighborhoods on standard mountain bikes a challenge for the Green Bay (Wisconsin) Police Department.
Solution: Three Cannondale Moterras with Bosch Performance CX motors and one Cannondale Contro-E Speed with a Bosch Performance Speed motor – with more eBikes to come in the future.
Results: The boost from the electric motors allows GBPD officers to ride further and longer than they could on a standard mountain bike, allowing them to expand their patrol area, cover more ground and arrive at a scene less fatigued.
Police departments across the country consistently face a number of challenges, with tight budgets and efficiently allocating personnel across patrol areas ranking high on the list for many. To overcome these challenges while meeting public safety and emergency response goals, department officials sometimes need to get creative about the equipment in which they invest.
A Wisconsin police department realized its bike patrol program needed a revamp to be more effective – but with limited options due to budget constraints, department officials had to think outside the box.
With a population of 105,000, Green Bay, Wisconsin, is the third-largest city in Wisconsin. In January 2012, the 192-officer Green Bay Police Department (GBPD) moved to district policing, an organizational structure that assigns police resources in a more efficient way. Decisions regarding police resources are data-driven, with an increased emphasis on crime analysis. The district model is intended to involve all members of the department instead of a few specialized units.
Under this model, Green Bay was divided into four policing districts designed around factors like major geographical boundaries, population density, nuisance activity and call volume. Each district has an assigned captain and lieutenants as well as community policing officers. Patrol officers are assigned the same part of the city on a more consistent basis, giving officers an increased familiarity with the areas they patrol. So that community police officers can further develop relationships with residents of their districts, each officer was assigned a black-and-white mountain bike, decked out with police decals and special lights, to use when patrolling if they chose.
Traditional mountain bicycles had worked just fine when officers were patrolling smaller neighborhoods consisting of 10 to 15 blocks spread out over about a square mile, but in the new district policing model, community police officers had to patrol larger areas spread over several square miles, and that could be challenging on a standard mountain bike, Laux said.
“When our policing areas were small, it made sense to patrol on a bike or on foot, but getting from one end of the district to another quickly was problematic and not realistic, although our officers did it well,” he said. “Then I started hearing about eBikes.”
eBikes, or electric bicycles, use a pedal-activated electric motor and battery that gives riders an extra tailwind to pedal faster uphill and over longer distances. They’ve been around almost as long as traditional bicycles, but advances in motor and battery technologies in recent years have been driving consumer growth in places like Europe and China – and police departments in the United States are taking notice of an eBike’s advantages.
With a boost from an electric motor, officers can ride further and longer than they can on a standard bicycle, allowing them to expand their patrol area and cover more ground.
Officers are still able to get into tight places and crowds, but now they can get there even faster. When a call comes in, an officer can easily adjust the assist level into Turbo and quickly pedal up to 28 mph – that’s comparable with top Tour de France pro rider speeds on flat terrain, and 9 to 10 mph faster than an average rider.
Officers not only get to a scene faster – they also arrive stronger. The boost from the motor means an officer get to a scene less fatigued than he or she would be after powering a traditional bike at high speeds using just their legs, so they can use more energy for police work and less for pedaling.
eBikes also provide the opportunity to get more officers involved in bike patrol. Officers who aren’t sold on the physical demands of traditional bicycling now can get out, patrol and engage with the community because of the assistance the eBike’s motor provides.
Even bike patrol officers who crave the physical challenge of riding can appreciate an eBike, because the beauty is the rider can always choose how much assistance to get from it. When an officer is cruising the town on standard patrol, he or she can have the motor assist on Eco (boosting their leg power by 50 percent), making the experience very similar to traditional bike riding, and increasing the eBike’s range to as high as 100 miles. But when they need to get somewhere fast, they have the option to kick up the assistance level to Turbo – a 300 percent boost.
A less tangible – but no less important – effect of a police officer on an eBike is the approachability the bike affords. Both kids and adults who might never approach an officer in a squad car will greet an officer on a bike, and the eBike’s motorized feature gives it an extra “cool factor” that serves as a conversation starter, helping the officers engage the community and get some face time with local citizens.
Over the summer of 2016, Laux began to do some research on eBikes, browsing the Internet and asking other departments about their experiences. GBPD tried out a couple of eBike brands, but after officers took them out a few times, Laux said he couldn’t get his officers to use them any longer.
He found Pete’s Garage, a local outdoor sports shop, and tapped store manager Derek Hughes for advice. Hughes, a veteran mountain and snow biker, had experience with eBikes, and steered Laux toward Cannondale eBikes, powered by the Bosch eBike system.
“We brought in a couple of Cannondale demo eBikes, and the officers absolutely loved these,” Laux said. “Derek spoke highly of the Bosch battery life and motor, and the dual suspension was huge.”
Although police-grade eBikes have a higher price tag than a standard police mountain bike, Laux believes the benefits of an eBike outweigh the additional cost, and was able to finance his district’s eBikes through a combination of community fundraising and grants from organizations like the Wisconsin Public Service Foundation and Community Crime Prevention Grant Program.
To raise awareness about all of the positive elements eBikes bring to a police force, Laux issued a call to local media to invite them to see the eBikes firsthand. At the event, Laux spoke about the grants he was working on, informing media that they were purchased with non-taxpayer money in an effort to be fiscally responsible. Laux added while he was aware that while the bikes are not a necessity, the department felt they were an important way to enhance policing efforts, and anyone who would like to donate could contact him.
This caught the attention of one donor in particular, Bernie Dahlin of Nichols Paper, a local business. When Dahlin approached Laux and asked him to explain the program, Laux’s enthusiasm in describing the bikes as “the wave of the future for the department” made an impression on Dahlin, who provided another substantial donation that allowed the department to purchase an eBike. After Laux invited Dahlin and his wife, Alyce, to the police station garage to see the eBike firsthand, Dahlin then donated enough money for another eBike.
Cash donations from the rest of the community as well as grants financed the purchase of another two. Between funding from the grants and the community, GBPD now has three Cannondale Moterras with Bosch Performance CX motors and one Cannondale Contro-E Speed with a Bosch Performance Speed motor.
“It was humbling to see people in the community come forward and donate enough money for us to purchase these eBikes,” Laux said.
Laux added that this type of community fundraising is a strong option for other police departments interested in investing in eBikes.
“In my opinion, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of these generous people out there,” he said. “You just have to be able to get the word out to them. Most of our budget goes to wages and benefits, and that will be the case with many departments, but it comes down to how badly you want them and what you need to do to get them. It’s a big commitment, but if other departments are serious about having an eBike program, there are grants out there, as well as generous community members and stakeholders who want to contribute to a way to enhance a police force.”
Laux said that so far, the eBikes have more than met his expectations.
“eBikes give our officers the ability to respond quickly from a longer distance, and when they get there, they aren’t exhausted – and an exhausted officer is a vulnerable officer,” Laux said. “The eBikes with the electrical assist take exhaustion out of the equation, so officers can be as effective as they would be coming out of a squad car.”
Citizen response has been positive as well. The media buzz generated by Laux’s outreach helped spread the word about GBPD’s new technology, and residents often approach officers on the eBikes to inquire about them.
Facilitating trust between the community and officers is an ancillary benefit of the eBike program, he added.
“Part of the police department’s philosophy is community engagement – being out there and being seen – and an officer on a bike is much more approachable than an officer in a car,” Laux said. “If we want to make a commitment to the community to engage with them and be present for them, then we also need to make the commitment to get our officers out on bikes as much as we can.”
Author: Claudia Wasko, General Manager, Bosch eBikes Systems Americas