University of North Georgia police officers are getting out of their warm and comfortable patrol cars to protect students and faculty in a more hands-on and personal way.
University Director of Public Safety Justin Gaines recently started a new bicycle patrol. Gaines said he was pleased to find a large number of his officers interested in patrolling on a bike.
“I don’t like to force people to do things they don’t want to do, if I can help it,” Gaines said. “So what I told the officers was, ‘If you volunteer to do this, I’ll let you wear shorts in the summertime with the bike uniform and you can ride the community bike. After a year riding the bike, I’ll give you $1,500 for us to buy you your own issued bicycle with all the bells and whistles.’”
Nearly every officer on the main Dahlonega campus and four officers on the Gainesville campus expressed interest. Gaines said he now has bike patrol officers on all four campuses.
The biggest benefit of the program is getting officers out of the patrol cars.
“My philosophy is that, as law enforcement and especially campus law enforcement, we need to do what we can to get out of the car and create relationships with our community,” Gaines said. “We need to understand what’s going on and be that asset for our community.”
Bike patrol officers are required to do a minimum of three building and parking lot checks each hour. Their aim is to keep tabs on what’s happening around campus and minimize petty crime, he said.
A bonus side effect of the initiative is the increased health and physical fitness of the participating officers. Gaines said one of the first officers to patrol on a bicycle has lost 40 pounds since starting the patrol a few months ago.
Capt. Bernard Larkin from the university’s Gainesville campus said he enjoys bike patrol. It saves the department on gas and keeps him in shape.
“The bike is the best tool, and it really is a tool,” Larkin said. “You’re riding along, and you can see a lot more.”
The patrol car is a useful and necessary tool for the university’s public safety department, Gaines said, because it carries a lot of needed equipment. But the bike patrol can help better defend against bigger crime as well.
“It’s easy to sit in the car with the tinted windows up, air conditioner on,” Gaines said, “and then not hear someone screaming for help.”
Along with the new initiative, the department made several changes, including recent hires on both the Gainesville and Dahlonega campuses.
Officers Blake Denna and Jayson Yarbrough were added to the Gainesville campus patrol. Both have bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice. Officer Jarrett Miller, who earned a political science degree from UNG in 2012, will patrol the Dahlonega campus.
Gaines said he wants all of his officers to make concrete efforts to get to know the campus community, whether they patrol from a car or a bike. He said students, faculty and staff will feel more comfortable on campus if they are familiar with the people working to protect them.
“I tell my officers to get out of their car and make contact with people, not just on a negative basis, but on a positive basis,” Gaines said. “Just start creating relationships and saying, ‘Hey, how are you?’”