HATTIESBURG, Miss. – University of Southern Mississippi patrol officer Lee Ducksworth Jr. knew last week’s law enforcement bike course wouldn’t be anything like learning to ride when he was a kid, when he could rely on training wheels.
Ducksworth was joined by some of his fellow University Police officers and patrol officers from Mississippi State University for the week-long course, and upon completion they earned certification through the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA), recognized by law enforcement agencies in 21 countries.
William Trussell, a former Southern Miss bike patrol officer and certified IPMBA trainer who conducted last week’s course, said bike patrols enhance community policing and can access areas where police cars can’t go. The visibility of officers on the patrols also reassures the public and increases communication between officers and those they’re trying to protect, he said.
“Sometimes, people may think twice about making a phone call to make a report to the police, but when they see us on our bikes, we’re more approachable and they’re more likely to point out suspicious activity, ask for directions or just say hello,” he said.
Bike patrols are extremely effective on a campus the size of Southern Miss, said University Police Chief Bob Hopkins. “For a compact university such as ours, they’re a great benefit to our operations. It’s (mountain bike) a versatile piece of equipment and cost effective.”
Officers can travel by bike not only on asphalt, but on sidewalks and other accessible surfaces. In their training, they learn how to navigate traffic, pursue suspects and properly dismount to make arrests or use force, among other tactics. Emergency medical service providers are also using bikes for the same reasons in order to reach accident victims and others needing immediate medical attention.
Ducksworth said the mountain bike course rivaled his basic military training in mental and physical intensity. The officers were taught how to use their bike to go around, over, under and through obstacles, including how to descend up and down steps and travel inside confined areas.
They also became familiar with every part of their bike and how it worked. “We learned about the whole bike, from the handlebar to the frame to the brakes to the rear wheel, almost like we were building it, and we learned how to maintain the entire system,” he said.
Each bike is equipped with a light and siren, along with a tire tool, air pump and water bottle, among other gear.
Bike patrol training is required of all officers at MSU, which has a large campus with some areas that are inaccessible by road, making bike patrols a valuable tool for the university’s security force, said patrol officer Wes Atkins.
Atkins said bikes also give him and fellow officers increased access to small areas and the ability to circumvent heavy traffic during major campus sporting events.
“You don’t have the same barriers that you do with a car,” he said. “On football game day, it can take only two minutes by bike to reach some destinations on campus, whereas with a patrol car it may take 20.”
To learn more about the International Police Mountain Bike Association, online visit www.ipmba.org
PHOTO CUTLINE: Southern Miss Police officer Lee Ducksworth Jr. descends a flight of steps on the university’s Hattiesburg campus last week during a mountain bike law enforcement training course. Officers from Southern Miss and Mississippi State University participated in the course. (Submitted photo)
About The University of Southern MississippiThe University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.