Wilsonville officers are now patrolling hard-to-access areas atop bicycles

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Police Sgt. Dan Kraus, left, and Officer John Wildhaber, right, say that residents find them more approachable when they patrol on bikes.The apparent pot dealer sitting in his car at Memorial Park didn’t see it coming.

And that’s the point.

Officers with Wilsonville’s newly formed bicycle patrol unit recently arrested the man, who they say had two ounces of marijuana, scales and other items that indicated he was at the park looking for customers.

“It was one of those cases where my impression is that the person would note a police car coming to them and would have been able to conceal evidence,” said Wilsonville Police Sgt. Dan Kraus, who heads the bicycle unit. “But because of the quiet ... even when you’re in full uniform, people don’t recognize that as being a police officer.”

Created in May, the bike unit comprises eight officers. Bicycles, Kraus says, allow officers to access places that a traditional police cruiser just can’t go — whether it be a dirt trail in a park, heavy traffic on Wilsonville Road or a crowded community event, such as Fun in the Park.

“We’ve responded to crashes and a lot of traffic stops, and it’s part of our solution to traffic enforcement at some of these intersections where we’ve had problems,” he said.

Sitting atop custom-built Kona mountain bikes, rather than inside Dodge Charger police cruisers, also makes officers more accessible to community members, Kraus said, allowing for more positive, face-to-face interaction between police and residents.

“We really like the way in which it creates almost an instantaneous removal of barriers between us and people,” said Kraus, who has been spending plenty of time this summer in the bike unit’s distinctive black and yellow shirt.

Officer John Wildhaber is also on the bike unit. Like Kraus, he is impressed with how patrolling by bicycle provides a level of communication with the public that isn’t possible with a vehicle.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Police Sgt. Dan Kraus, right, and Officer John Wildhaber conduct a bike patrol through Wilsonville's Memorial Park.“There’s less of a barrier,” Wildhaber said. “You don’t have a car between you and them and you don’t have a computer screen in front of you that’s distracting you from being able to have a full view of what’s going on. It makes you more approachable to the community.”

This was on full display during a recent patrol in Memorial Park.

Kraus and Wildhaber traded laughs with a group of visiting students, rode through wooded trails and got plenty of exercise during the process.

“It’s beautiful, but it’s pretty isolated,” Kraus said. “And the reaction I get from women walking by themselves is that this has given them some comfort to know there are people patrolling.”

The bicycle unit is born

Earlier this year, Wilsonville officers attended a three-day bicycle patrol training session along with deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

When it came to equipping those officers, though, it was hardly as simple as pulling a mountain bike off the rack and saddling up.

“I don’t think we realized how complicated it was,” Kraus said.

Wilsonville Officer Justin Smith, who first broached the topic of forming a bicycle unit about a year ago, stepped up to help the new unit get outfitted.

“He actually did all the research and found out what the appropriate type of bicycle was,” Kraus said.

After plenty of research, the department settled on a custom law enforcement package offered by Safariland, a company specializing in making equipment for police and military needs.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Sgt. Dan Kraus took to his patrol bike for the Wilsonville Kids Fun Run in July, where he participated in, and won, the mascot race. Built on a Kona frame and featuring outsized 29” wheels with disc brakes, the police bicycles used in Wilsonville also have a rear rack welded straight to the frame. This allows space for a large equipment bag housing an air pump, lock, citation pad and other necessities. There’s even a siren and blue and red flashing lights.

Wildhaber is even experimenting at the moment with a “ruggedized” Panasonic tablet for accessing police databases via a secure mobile network.

“It’s a real platform for doing police work,” Kraus said.

Patrolling by bike isn’t always viable, however, particularly in Oregon, where the rain is plentiful. Also, there is the issue of making sure officers are available to respond to calls in a timely manner — something that may not be possible by bike in an emergency.

“One of the solutions when we’re shorter on personnel is we’re using a bike rack,” Kraus said, pointing to a quick-release trunk-mounted rack made by Thule. “Wildhaber went out and bought his own and he started testing it and it worked great; it worked so well that we purchased one for the department.”

This arrangement allows officers to stow their bicycles quickly and drive, if needed.

So, if you see the black and yellow-clad officers cruising through your local park, give them a wave. They’d love to chat with you.

“We’ve noticed riding the bike that people will stop us and talk to us,” Wildhaber said. “Some of it’s just ‘Oh, wow, we have a bike patrol.’ But the other part of it is you’re moving through neighborhoods at slow speeds and people just want to interact with you.”

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Police Sgt. Dan Kraus, left, and Officer John Wildhaber conduct a bike patrol through Wilsonville's Memorial Park.

By Josh Kulla
Assistant Editor / Photographer
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