HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Police officers may be able to get to a crime scene quicker on four wheels. Harrisburg Police is hoping its two-wheel diplomacy approach ends up changing more lives.
A recent initiative by Harrisburg Police Chief Tom Carter has put more "bike cops" on the city's streets. The idea is simple: Police officers on bikes are more approachable than those in cars. As tensions rise across the country between inner-city communities and their police officers, Harrisburg is hoping a more personal approach with residents ultimately improves relations.
"One of the ways you combat that (tension) is having officers get to know the people," Sgt. Gabriel Olivera of the Harrisburg Police Bureau says. "The bikes are one of the way they actually get to know them.
"When you start building those community ties, then the community feels more comfortable with those officers and are more engaging when times of crisis are going on."
Currently Harrisburg Police has approximately 40 officers of the 140 in its department trained on bikes. "Bike cops" ride as part of a two-man unit, and all officers on the patrol team are volunteers.
Officer Matt Novchich has been on bike patrol for over a year, and says response from residents, especially those in Harrisburg's Allison Hill neighborhood, has been positive.
"Even on the midnight platoon," Novchich says, "people are happy to see us. They're happy to see our faces out and about. We're able to hit the areas that need to be hit a little harder."
Bike patrol officers, like Novchich, may be helping to stop crimes in the city before they even occur. Novchich and his riding partner were investigating a suspicious vehicle around 12:45 a.m. Monday morning.
"The vehicle was blacked out. Engine wasn't running. We thought that was unusual," he said.
When the driver in the car noticed the officers on their bikes, the vehicle sped away. The officers were nearly hit, but were able to keep up with the car through the neighborhood thanks to their bikes.
"Being on a bike affords us going into areas cars normally can't fit," Novchich said. "We can be a little more stealthy."
They can also be more personal, especially with neighborhood youth.
"Kids can actually see you because you're more visible," said Ofc. Brian Henry, who joined the Harrisburg bike patrol in 2010.
Sgt. Olivera added, "Kids will come up to them and want to compete in a bike race with the officers. Sometimes, they want the officers to show them a trick or two."