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ECU adds bike patrol

(July 6, 1994)   —   Patrol officer Johnnie Umphlet of East Carolina University was on the south side of ECU’s main campus when the dispatcher’s voice broke the squelch on his portable radio.
“Check subjects in front of the art building and advise,” the dispatcher told Umphlet.
Several hundred yards and a maze of winding roads separated the officer from his destination, but Umphlet arrived there within 60 seconds of hearing the dispatcher’s call—a full three minutes ahead of an officer in a patrol car.
Where does he get his speed? He rides a bicycle.
“The bike is just another tool in police work,” said Umphlet, a Rocky Mount native, who is part of ECU’s new and growing squad of bike patrol officers.
Umphlet and fellow biker Rich Davis patrol the campus in 12 hour shifts. Their responsibilities are like those of any other police officer. They write tickets, investigate crime, and make arrests. Yes, they also carry guns.
After starting their beats last September, the presence of the bike patrol is getting positive response.
There is better communication between the police and the students, according to Umphlet. It is much easier, he said, to communicate from a bike than from inside a car.
“The students can also identify with us because they ride bikes too,” he said.
When it comes to protecting the campus from crime, the bike cop is no pushover. Umphlet and his colleague attending training in maneuvering their bikes across rough terrain, over curbs and even up and down stairways. This new breed of rugged bike, in the hands of a skilled operator, can go almost anywhere a person on foot can go. In confined space such as a college campus, the bike is even faster than the automobile.
Despite these advantages, the bike is relatively new to police work. The Dallas, Tex. police department was one of the first users of bicycles in 1914. During the popularity rise of 10 speed racing bikes in the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, police departments in a few locations experimented with bikes as police transportation.
But, it was the development of the mountain and all-terrain bikes in the mid-1980s that helped establish the bike as a police tool.
Police in Seattle, Wash. were among the first to embrace the mountain bike for patrolling streets. Today, police on bicycle are a common sight on the west coast. Bicycles are also finding their place in other parts of the country. In North Carolina, police ride bikes in several cities and towns. Most of the larger colleges and universities in the state also employ bicycle patrols on campus.
ECU’s police bikes are good examples of the more expensive mountain bikes on the market today. The tires on these bikes are bigger than the tires on standard road and racing bikes. The tires contribute to the bike’s effectiveness across different terrain. A selection of 21 gears gives the bike speed and ability to go up steep inclines. A front end suspension system takes the jolts out of bumps.
The bicycle frames and components are Aluminum. Fully loaded with front and rear lights and carrying bags, a single bike weighs under 30 pounds. The bikes cost about $1,200 each.
Umphlet noted that some of advantages of the bike over the automobile is that it doesn’t use fuel, it doesn’t pollute, and maintenance is relatively inexpensive. So far, about $25 has been spent on bike repairs.