Employees at the Glen Burnie Animal Hospital looked askance at the two county police officers who rolled into their parking lot on bicycles one day last month to answer a call about a suspicious person hanging around their back door.
"We were just fascinated by it," said Debbie Cox, a secretary at the hospital in the 400 block of N. Crain Highway. "They were here so fast, even though it wasn't a real emergency."
The officers on that call are part of a new trend in community policing that is spreading through the county, as well as the country. The Anne Arundel County police bicycle patrol program began in the fall with three officers at Northern District and has grown to 48 officers throughout the county, said Officer Steve Atkinson, who trains new officers to work on the patrol.
"Basically we teach them about safety techniques, how to blend into traffic and how to ride in various weather conditions," he said.
The bikes solve many policing problems, Officer Atkinson said, by allowing officers to catch those who try to escape by running into the woods or some place where it would be impossible for a bulky police cruiser to follow.
It also gives the officers the advantage of surprise. Riding bicycles and wearing bright yellow shirts and black shorts, they do not look like real police officers at first glance, even though they wear guns and carry radios.
"For example, we had gotten some complaints from residents who live near Brooklyn Park-Lindale Junior High about kids in the woods sniffing paint," he said. "We were able to ride our bikes right in there and they didn't even see us or hear us coming."
On another warm night this summer, the bike patrol was called to a home in Harundale for a breaking and entering in progress. When they arrived, the two officers split up and rode their bikes around each side of the house.
"We caught two people carrying out an air conditioner from the window," Officer Atkinson said. "They didn't hear us arrive because we didn't have the noise of a car or a door slamming."
While Northern District has been using the bikes since fall, the patrols are just starting in the other districts, where it is very popular with officers as well as residents, who are donating the bikes through their community groups.
"I have more volunteers to ride the bikes than I have bikes," said Lt. Robert Barlow of Eastern District. "It's been more successful than I thought it would be."
Eastern District will be getting two mountain bikes from the Chesterfield Homeowners Association community picnic July 31.
Northern District station in Brooklyn Park has 11 bikes, two of which were donated by the Glen Burnie Improvement Association.
"After we gave them the first bike, we were so impressed with the program that we gave them the funds to buy another," said Muriel Carter, association president.
While using bikes has its practical advantages, it also gives officers the added benefit of getting to know people in the community.
"It's in keeping with the community policing program that requires officers to get out of their cars and talk to people," said Lt. Thomas A. Suit, who coordinates the program at Northern District. "It removes barriers and creates a more humanistic approach."
Mrs. Carter agrees.
"It makes them really handy to the community, and we get to chat with them and we know that they are around."