State police at the Westminster barracks have joined Westminster City Police in creating a bicycle patrol as a way to get more into the community.
The state police's Gary Fisher Aquila 21-speed mountain bike, purchased at White's Bicycles with money from a Carroll County Health Department grant, officially was unveiled last month.
"We've used the bike at selected sites where there's crowd congestion, like carnivals, the farm museum, the air show and at youth group bike safety events," said Tfc. James Emerick, one of five state troopers involved with the bicycle patrol program.
Trooper Emerick also rode the bike 14 miles through Carroll County during the Maryland Special Olympics' Torch Run, to provide traffic control and roadblocks.
"It's a really nice bike," he said. "I'm not a real avid biker, but it was a nice ride."
Trooper Emerick said the barracks would like to start neighborhood patrols on the bike in areas where they have full police power, such as Eldersburg and the towns of New Windsor and Mount Airy, which rely on the resident troopers.
"It's community policing," he said. "We're trying to get back in touch with the community, do some crime prevention, do some fun things, interact with people instead of being encased in that metal cocoon, the squad car," he said.
The patrols depend on weather and getting enough officers trained to ride the bike properly.
"We would try to target certain areas on certain days," Trooper Emerick said. "The more the community receives it, the more we can do it."
The idea for the bike patrols came from a committee at the barracks that saw a need for a bicycle to use in youth bicycle safety programs.
"A bike has more stealth than a car and more mobility than a foot patrol," Trooper Emerick said. "We've been going into the schools and also talking to other areas that have implemented the bike patrol with great success."
For now, the major focus of the program is bicycle safety for young people. Starting Oct. 1, children 16 and under who ride bicycles will be required by state law to wear helmets.
Trooper Emerick said that for the first year of the law, police would be stopping children without helmets and giving warnings, plus providing bicycle safety information.
Officials of the annual Cycle Across Maryland bike tour gave the Westminster barracks 25 helmets to distribute to children who can't afford to buy helmets. Along with the helmets, the police hand out educational brochures, a video and bumper stickers.
The health department grant money also provided state police with vouchers for helmets through its KIDS (Keep Injuries Down with Safety) Club.
The troopers are working with the barracks' Law Enforcement Explorer Post, whose members assist police at events in the county, such as carnivals, festivals and farm museum activities.
"The bike patrol is a combined cooperative effort with the Explorers," Trooper Emerick said. "Actually, they've ridden the bike more than we have so far."
The troopers and Explorers take the police mountain bike to youth bicycle rodeos, where they give demonstrations of proper helmet use and bike safety and hand out educational information.
"Our target group is 8- to-24-year-olds, because studies show they suffer proportionately more head injuries and bicycles are the main cause of those injuries," Trooper Emerick said. "It's important for us to be a mentor, to give these kids someone like a police officer to look up to and see us doing something properly."
Troopers have been getting requests to present the bike safety program from schools, churches and other groups in the county, he said.
The health department grant also pays overtime for troopers to give the programs, Trooper Emerick said, so they won't be taken away from regular patrols.
Anyone interested in having state police present the bike safety program may call 848-3111.