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Police on bicycles now patrolling Cranberry

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Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Cranberry police officer Mark Shields, who is part of the new bike patrol unit, makes his way through Cranberry's Community Days Celebration in Cranberry Community Park, Thursday July 7, 2016.

When Cranberry police were deciding when and where to start an initiative that would put them in more direct contact with residents, they could think of no better place than the township's annual Community Days celebration.

So that is where the department's new Police Bicycle Unit made its official debut.

Sgt. Bill Ahlgren said four members of the department, including himself, volunteered to be part of the patrol and underwent four days of instruction and hands-on training to obtain certification from the International Police Mountain Bike Association.

Maureen Becker, executive director of the association, said the training emphasized skills like slow-speed riding and obstacle avoidance, as well as basic bicycle maintenance and rules of the road.

“The goal is for officers to be able to operate their bikes in such a way that they are always alert to their surroundings,” Becker said. “They have to be able to safely react to often unpredictable situations.”

Ahlgren said going through the training was an eye-opening experience.

“It was pretty tough,” he said. “There's a lot more that goes into it than you might think.”

In addition to providing a noticeable presence at special events, the bicycle patrols will bring a more direct connection between officers and residents.

The department has a total of 25 full-time officers.

“We believe bike patrols will enhance our patrol functions, but also improve community interaction.” Ahlgren said. “It will allow us to be a more positive presence in the community.”

He said residents might not feel the same kind of connection when they see officers driving through their neighborhoods in patrol cars.

“On bikes, it will be much easier to stop, talk to people and see what's going on,” Ahlgren said.

Becker said more communities are turning to bike patrols for that very reason.

“I think there is a greater recognition of the effects a bike officer can have, not just in terms of mobility and accessibility, but in building a relationship of trust with residents in the patrol areas,” Becker said.

Bike patrols also will provide better access to the growing network of trails and pedestrian pathways that wind through the township's parks and neighborhoods.

“This is a perfect complement to the new bike routes we are putting in the township,” Supervisor Mike Manipole said. “Our officers do a tremendous job already, and this will only enhance that.”

Ahlgren said the bicycle officers also plan to take part in bicycle safety events sponsored by both the township and the Seneca Valley School District.

The first will be the Cranberry Bike Safety Rodeo, scheduled for July 16, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in Cranberry Community Park.

The event will include bicycle safety inspections, a bike safety course and helmet fitting stations.

The township purchased three specially designed police mountain bikes from Trek of Pittsburgh, which operates a store on Route 228 in Cranberry.

The bikes cost about $1,500 each.

“We felt it was important to partner with a local company if we could, and Trek was able to meet all our needs,” Ahlgren said, adding that Trek also will perform periodic maintenance on the bikes.

The bikes are outfitted with a lighting and siren package and a trunk bag to allow officers to carry supplies.

Vince Townley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6364 or [email protected].

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