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June 28, 2019

Bike unit expands sheriff’s patrols to trails, tight spots

We’re much more approachable. We’re able to engage people much more easily.
— Master Deputy Sheriff Chris Meyer
Sheriff’s Bike Unit
• Launched: June 3

• Members: Deputy Michael Harper and Master Deputy Sheriffs Wesley Frost, Chris Meyer and Robbie Settle, who volunteered.

• Training: 40 hours each.

• Assignments: Patrol trails, neighborhoods and villages; work special events.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
The Fauquier sheriff’s office recently added four vehicles that would prove useless on Interstate 66 or for hauling suspects to jail.

But, the new bicycle unit allows deputies to get much closer to citizens and to go places SUVs can’t access.

“When you in a patrol cruiser, it’s a 3,000-pound vehicle; it can be intimidating,” said Master Deputy Sheriff Chris Meyer, one of bike unit’s four officers. “We’re much more approachable. We’re able to engage people much more easily.”

Since hitting the road June 3, the bike-mounted deputies have logged about 1,100 miles each, patrolling neighborhoods, some of Fauquier’s expanding trail network that covers more than 14 miles and in Remington and Marshall. The officers also work special events, such as the recent Father’s Day Car Show and the upcoming Warrenton Town Limits.

The unit represents an experiment that will undergo evaluation at summer’s end, when three of the four deputies — Michael Harper, Robbie Settle and Mr. Meyer — return to their assignments as school resource officers. The unit’s fourth member, Wesley Frost works as a Patrol Division deputy.

It cost little to start the bike unit, according to Capt. Ray Prudham, patrol division commander. The Fairfax County Police Department donated most of the mountain bikes when it purchased replacements. The area’s police academies charged nothing for the specialized 40-hour training that each deputy completed. The sheriff’s office spent about $1,500 for bike uniforms and bought racks for each of the deputies’ SUVs.

The bike deputies seldom get too far from their cruisers, which have a range of specialized equipment for a variety of situations, Deputy Settle noted.

But, they carry many of the basics when two-wheeling, including their handguns, Tasers, radios, phones, handcuffs, first-aid supplies, Narcan, basic bike repair supplies and their photos, which allow real-time GIS tracking of the deputies.

The uniforms include nylon — versus leather — belts to cut weight and improve ventilation. Still, with their bullet-proof vests, the bike-mounted deputies wear about 24 pounds of gear.

The training also prepared the deputies to use their bikes as barriers for crowd control or in a “takedown slide” to stop a fleeing suspect, according to Deputy Meyer, who previously served with three different bike units in the Midwest.

On a bike, he added, “You can see so much more. All of your senses are heightened.”

The deputies already have ridden right up to people drinking in public and smoking marijuana on trails, Deputy Meyer said. They recently set up surveillance at an intersection in the Brookside subdivision near Vint Hill and ticketed a couple of drivers who just blew though stop signs.

But, most of the time, the deputies want high visibility in the bright yellow jerseys that make them look like human “highlighters.

They also have rechargeable lights built into the bicycle handlebars and frames that make them more easily seen, when the situation calls for it.

The bike unit, which Patrol Division Lt. Andy Marshall suggested almost a year ago, gives his office another “community policing” element, Sheriff Bob Mosier said.

“It’s community engagement,” Deputy Settle said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m an SRO.”

He particularly enjoys giving children, often on their own bikes, junior deputy badges.

“I get Mom and Dad’s permission first,” Deputy Settle said. To earn the badge, he tells the youngsters: “You must listen to your parents, be a good citizen and be nice to everybody . . . . It’s just a very positive thing.”

Although the program’s future remains unknown, Sheriff Mosier said he can see it expanding with more racks and bikes attached to patrol vehicles.

He noted that the parks department last year counted 196,000 users on county trails — representing a significant challenge for law enforcement.

On Monday, June 17, Deputies Meyers and Settle responded to a call that demonstrated how bikes can provide an advantage.

A woman called 9-1-1 to report a bear blocking the way back to her car at Whitney State Forest just south of Warrenton.

The deputies drove there from separate locations. One started at each end of the loop trail and within six minutes found the woman and her dog, who had retreated from the parking area.

By then, the bear had wandered away.

On foot, it would have taken an animal control officer or a deputy at least 25 minutes to cover he same area of trail.

The woman posted a Facebook message: “To Officers Meyer and Settle for saving me today. They came to my rescue after a bear crossed my path at Whitney State Forest.”

Contact Lou Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.

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