A new twist on an old form of transportation has led to a new initiative within the Gloucester Township Police Department.
This summer, the department is deploying its special law enforcement officers to patrol its parks on bicycles whenever possible. This new initiative has a myriad of advantages, but a big reason for the change is to get the officers to build a stronger relationship with residents.
“It’s the opportunity to get out, meet people and talk to people on a face-to-face basis,” Lt. Mark Benton of the Gloucester Township Police Department said.
The police’s new initiative builds off of its community policing focus that has been a hallmark of the department for about a decade. In 2010, the police department began utilizing its special officers more for community policing and gave them the option of using alternative vehicles, such as a golf cart, to patrol parks. The new bicycle initiative takes things one step further.
“You take away the barriers of a car and let people see them eye-to-eye,” Benton said. “The other thing is the ability to cover so much more ground, so much more area as opposed to walking or driving your car.”
The police department is making the change as it introduces a new tool to make biking more efficient for officers. In March, the police department was recognized for its work within schools at the fourth annual Law Enforcement Against Drugs conference and summit. As part of the recognition, the department received a free GeoOrbital bicycle wheel system. The GeoOrbital wheel takes the place of the front wheel on a normal bike. It is battery powered and enables the rider to travel at speeds of up to 19 miles per hour with a minimal amount of pedaling.
In 2010 the Gloucester Township Police Department (GTPD) implemented a community policing model focused heavily on being more visible, interacting with community members, building community trust, and actions that prevent and solve problems. As we implemented our community policing model in 2010, we also made immediate changes to our Special Police Program by providing them patrol options other than a marked police vehicle. Such changes included the use of a golf cart and a Segway to patrol our parks. Since that time, the GTPD has improved the use of our Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEO) Program, specifically by increasing their presence and interaction throughout our Township’s various community parks. The GTPD has found that involvement in everyday activities, such as visiting our community parks, is an excellent way to engage with our residents. The SLEO program takes advantage of the ability to increase their presence and interaction throughout the community and especially at our parks. Today, we continue to build upon our community policing strategy by providing additional patrol options for our Special Officers assigned to our parks. Beginning today – our SLEO’s will be operating bicycles whenever possible in our parks, which will include our newly acquired GeoOrbital bicycle. Special Officers will also be wearing a clearly visible “Hi Viz” police uniforms, equipped with information cards about township events, when necessary operating our newly “park themed” police marked units, and ready to engage with patrons at our parks. The GTPD is proud to be recognized for its work in our schools and was selected at the 4th Annual New Jersey Law Enforcement Against Drugs (L.E.A.D.) conference and summit in March of 2019 to receive a brand-new police bicycle equipped with a 29” electric GeoOrbital wheel. The generous donation was made on behalf of benefactor Preferred Freezer Inc. and CEO John J. Galiher in conjunction with L.E.A.D. and GeoOrbital Inc.https://youtu.be/3Xyib43-Xtg
Posted by Gloucester Township Police on Tuesday, June 18, 2019
The department began testing the wheel on one of its bikes in the spring and realized there were a number of advantages to using it.
“You can stand up, you can look over the top of a crowd and see what’s going on without pedaling,” Benton said. “If you have an emergency and you have to pedal a mile and a half or two miles, it’s a long way and you’re fatigued, you’re tired and you’re delayed getting there. For officers deployed with the geo wheel, it can go up to 19 miles per hour, so they can get there quickly. It still requires pedaling, it doesn’t go by itself, but it’s a great tool to be able to use.”
The department liked the wheel system so much, it recently purchased a second wheel. The department currently has one GeoOrbital-equipped bicycle for use with its special officers in the parks and another for the department’s patrol units. While the department is just starting to use the GeoOrbital wheel on a regular basis, Benton said the new-looking bike got some members of the community talking during the testing phase.
“A lot of our (special officers) are younger and they’re talking about the bikes,” Benton said. “The bikes are cool. We’ve had a lot of people who are trying to buy these because it looks cool.”
Jacob Hunt is one of the special law enforcement officers who is trained on the new bicycle and patrols the township’s parks. He said being able to bike with some of the kids in town and establish a stronger relationship with them has been a rewarding part of his job.
“It’s pretty enjoyable to see that you probably changed the way they think about police,” Hunt said. “ You start to meet a lot of good people and it’s pretty fun. And you get to bike.”
As part of the new park initiative, Hunt and his fellow special officers are wearing high visibility uniforms so they can be spotted easily. The officers also carry around trading cards as well as information on bicycle safety as well as township events.