If you're driving in Baltimore County this summer and you hear a high-pitched noise that sounds like an industrial-strength smoke detector, double-check your rearview mirror.
Instead of a fire alarm, it might be Cpl. James MacLellan, or one of his officers, signaling you to pull over. You'll recognize the uniform -- spandex shorts, a helmet and black tennis shoes -- attached to the pedals of a bicycle.
Corporal MacLellan runs the 10-person bike patrol in the Wilkens Precinct, and he'll soon be training dozens of other cops who will hit the streets in the county's newest fleet of patrol vehicles -- 24 brand new mountain bikes.
The County Council last night approved unanimously the Police Department's request for permission to spend $48,000 to purchase the bicycles, along with bike racks, helmets, the spandex shorts and other equipment. That will give each precinct at least two police bikes for patrol and 12 officers trained and equipped to ride them.
The police were also granted permission to spend $161,000 on a new, two-seat helicopter for surveillance.
Whenever he pulls someone over while riding his police bike, Corporal MacLellan said, "they're quite surprised. I would tend to think we can enforce every traffic law in the state of Maryland -- except speeding."
While each precinct will get at least two bikes (some, such as Wilkens, have them already), the Eastern and Western Community Oriented Police Enforcement, or COPE, units will get four new bikes each.
Other jurisdictions have long had bike patrols, but in Baltimore County they began in 1991 as an experiment in the Western COPE unit. Officer Paul Wieber was one of the first to go on pedal patrol in crime-ridden neighborhoods.
"The people are always glad to see you," he said. The bike is "something that grabs their attention."
Corporal MacLellan agrees.
"Being on the bike makes you more accessible to people," he said. "In a recent eight-hour shift, I talked to 60 people, which I've never done in a police car. Never."
While bikes obviously lack speed, Corporal MacLellan said, they do have their advantages. In heavy traffic, he said, he can get to some crime scenes faster than a patrol car. And several times, while driving down Frederick Road, he's caught people drinking beer in their cars.