Neighborhoods pay for police to pedal

Southwest neighborhood and business associations are fundraising to buy bikes for the 5th Precinct

Minneapolis police officer Butch Blauert was out on one of his first Uptown bike patrols earlier this month when he learned just how valuable ditching his squad car for pedal power could be.

Blauert, the area’s daytime beat officer, spotted two people using heroin near the greenway and called for assistance. When help arrived in a police cruiser, the two fled in Blauert’s direction, oblivious to his presence. Both were arrested.

“It’s like I was invisible,” Blauert said. “I think I could have been doing jumping jacks in front of them and they wouldn’t have seen me.”

Blauert’s stealthy new Trek mountain bike is one of three the Uptown Association bought in May for the financially strapped 5th Precinct, which can’t afford to boost its bike stock on its own. Neighborhood organizations in Kingfield and Lyndale also recently started fundraising campaigns to buy bikes for the precinct.

 “We were all focusing on the fact that spring was coming up and looking at what initiatives we could use to get eyes on the street,” said Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA) project organizer Sarah Gleason about her neighborhood’s effort. “It came up that the police department didn’t have enough bikes and everybody thinks it’s a great idea for cops to be on bikes.”

So KFNA plunked down $800 for a bicycle, which hit the streets in May. The organization then started a fundraising campaign for reimbursement. The bike was bought before fundraising to maximize its use during the warm months, Gleason said.  

KFNA and the other organizations involved in buying bikes for police said bicycles make police more approachable and eco friendly; police said bikes are stealthy, improve visibility and can get into places cars can’t.

But some residents questioned why community organizations were footing the bill for the new rides. Isn’t that something taxes should pay for? Gleason said she’d heard that question before.

“For many people it’s frustrating… it’s like a bake sale for school supplies,” she said. “But the reality is (bikes) are not there.”

Lt. Jack Kelly, who oversees a section of the 5th Precinct that includes Uptown, Lyndale and Kingfield, said neighborhoods have been enthusiastic about seeing more officers on bicycles, but the Precinct doesn’t have the resources to meet the demand.  

“Our budget is what it is, so we won’t be running out and buying new bikes,” he said.

Many of the precinct’s couple dozen officers have gone through the weeklong training required to be bike certified and the program is growing in popularity, Kelly said. He planned to go through the training this month.

“Personally, when I saw all the RNC troops all lined up riding those bikes, cruising around the corner and I never even heard them coming, and I looked at the way they were professionally outfitted and they were in shape and looked good, that’s what sparked my interest,” he said.  

But the precinct has a total of about 10 bikes, he said, and three are dedicated to Uptown. The others, including the bike from Kingfield, are used where they’re needed. The police department makes no guarantees about where donated bikes will be used, Kelly said, though police will try to use them as much as possible in the neighborhood they came from.

Uptown is a different story because the three donated bikes are actually assigned to officers as part of their detail.

The Uptown Association, the business association for the group, originally looked at purchasing T3s — small, motorized vehicles similar to Segways.

“We came to the conclusion that that just would not work in Uptown, so we switched gears,” said Uptown Association board member Mike Finkelstein, who headed a committee that decided on the bike purchase.

The group spent roughly $800 per bike and the police department bought accessories including saddlebags and police decals.

“The value that you get, the distance that dollar goes is huge,” Finkelstein said.

He said police on bicycles fit Uptown’s scene better than squad cars and officers on bikes are easier to talk to.

Folks in the Lyndale neighborhood have made that point for years. The Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA) has fundraised $23,000 for off-duty bike patrols during the last three years.  

LNA executive director Mark Hinds expects the neighborhood to have no trouble raising $800 to match a contribution the organization recently committed to for a police bike. If matched, the neighborhood will buy two bikes.  

“It’s popular and people support it,” Hinds said. “I’d be surprised if we didn’t raise enough.”