Bethlehem: Police cyclists stress safety
They coast through dark alleys in the dead of night and can race down running suspects and speeding cars. But in a city that's seen more than its fair share of automobile vs. bicycle accidents recently, are Bethlehem's bike patrol officers visible enough not to get themselves squashed?
The question was posed by former resident and frequent passerby Baron Chase. In September, he said during his trips through the city he'd seen a number of officers riding along with out the benefit of lights on their bikes to make themselves visible. He said it was dangerous for them and drivers at night, and if the city needed help buying such equipment, "I'd be willing to donate.
"That should really be a requirement," Chase said. "If police are going to patrol at night they should really inspect the bikes. The police should set an example."
In response to Chase's concern, Commissioner Jason Schiffer, himself a longtime bike officer and cycling advocate, said in an email he checked the department's fleet of bikes and found some lacking front lights because of recently broken mountings. He did not specify anything else out of order.
"Our bikes are fitted with the NiteRider Minewt X2 lights on the front and NiteRider Tail Fazer or Cherry Bomb rear lights," Schiffer said. "These are examples of some of the brightest lights available. The rear lights are bright enough to cast a beam of red light onto the roadway.
"We have been strong advocates of safe cycling for many years and we have always advocated for proper lighting and reflectivity for all cyclists, including police." He added officers do use the stealth approach to come upon suspects unawares, but it is never done in traffic situations.
"We have used the 'lights out' approach in alleys, etc. to sneak around undetected, but the hazards are real and we teach ways to accomplish this safely," he said.
Schiffer explained the department has more fully-equipped bikes than are normally used during any given shift. "There is no reason an officer would be forced to ride a bike that is not properly equipped," he said.
Schiffer said for safety's sake citizens should have their bikes equipped with lights if they are riding at night, "and if you use your bike between sunset and sunrise, it must be equipped with a front lamp, rear and side reflectors that are visible from at least 500 feet."
Bike officers in Bethlehem work throughout the year and are certified by the International Police Mountain Bike Association, following a 40-hour course. They also participate in community cycling events and youth safety education.