Bringing back the bike cops

Lyndale Neighborhood Association raises money for bike patrols

Lyndale residents Shirley and Michael Montrose remember the mid-1990s, when violent gang activity was a next-door problem and gunshots were common.

They also remember the NRP-funded police bicycle patrols that helped get rid of crime in their neighborhood during those years.

“It was very affective. Crime went down,” said Michael, who is a member of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA). “As the neighborhood got better, there wasn’t a need for them anymore.”

During the past year, however, the Montroses began noticing a return of livability issues and violent offenses, including robberies, to their neighborhood, so they went to their neighbors with a plan to bring bike cops back to the streets. The program, which the LNA approved in the spring, started in mid-July and uses money donated by residents and area businesses to pay off-duty officers to patrol the neighborhood.

Roughly $8,500 has been pooled together for the program so far, Michael said.

At least a couple officers have done the patrol each week, usually between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., he said. They meet at his home, where he and Shirley talk about problem areas and anything else they want officers to know. Bike-riding officers so far have made several arrests during patrols, and community members enjoy the police presence.

“Hey, bike cops! Thank you,” yelled Lyndale resident Cindy Skrien as she drove past Sgt. Michael Heyer, who was biking around the Lyndale neighborhood on a recent weekday evening.

Skrien, who lives in the neighborhood with her husband and three daughters, stopped her minivan to chat with Heyer about some possible drug activity she had been seeing. She said bike cops are easier to approach than police in squad cars, and the presence is a nice change.

Not long after talking with Skrien, Heyer hopped a curb to return an errant baseball to 8-year-old Mahommed Moses, who was playing with his family at Painter Park.

Heyer, who was on his second bike patrol for the Lyndale neighborhood, responded to a couple calls that night, but spent most of the evening riding, being seen and interacting with the community.

“It’s nice to do overtime when you can be proactive and make face-to-face contacts,” Heyer said. “In those contacts with people in the neighborhood, we’re finding out problem areas that we might not have known of before, and bad guys are not expecting to see us on bikes, so it’s better for arrests, too.”

Minneapolis Police, who have other Southwest overtime options including a buy-back program in Uptown, were slow to respond when the bike patrol program started in mid-July.

Lt. Marie Przynski, who coordinates signups for the program, said it’s easy for officers to get burned out with other overtime options, but she’s finding that many of them like getting on a bike as opposed to working overtime patrols in squad cars.

“It’s comforting to know that cops want to be on a bike,” she said. “It enables them to do more community policing.”

Luther Krueger, a Downtown crime prevention specialist for the Minneapolis Police Department, said police are more effective on bikes in some instances. Approaching drug dealers on a corner, for example, can be done more easily from a bike, said Krueger, who lives in Lyndale.

Cops on bikes are also moving slower on patrol than squad cars so they have a wider field of view, he said.

No single program is a “magic bullet” for ending crime, Krueger said. Bike cops make a difference in collaboration with neighborhood efforts such as the Lyndale Walkers, the Graffiti Task Force and other initiatives.

“We no longer hear gunfire on a nightly basis because, as a community, we’ve made Lyndale unlivable for crooks and desirable for the law-abiding,” Krueger said.

The Lyndale bike patrol program will continue through Sept. 15, Michael Montrose said. It will return again next spring if it is needed and funding is available.

Jake Weyer can be reached at 436-4367 and [email protected]