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Centerville Police working to train and expand bicycle unit

CENTERVILLE — Centerville police Sgt. Woody Hudgens once pulled over a drunken driver on his police bicycle. Another time, he interrupted a drug deal, snatched the drugs while on his bicycle and made the arrest.

“It’s a lot more than people expect it to be,” Hudgens said of serving on a law enforcement bicycle unit.

A certified law enforcement bicycle instructor, Hudgens is working with Centerville Police Chief Anthony B. Cooper to develop a strong bicycle unit for the city’s police department.

“It’s just another way we can protect our community,” Cooper said.

EXPERIENCE & TRAINING

Hudgens came to the Centerville police force about a year ago after 17 years with the Warner Robins Police Department, where he also served on the bicycle unit.

He and officer Scott Mitchell were the only Centerville officers certified to serve on a law enforcement bicycle unit.

But that changed on the first weekend of August when Centerville police Sgt. Brian Campbell, officer Erica Rozier and officer Paul Hollar completed two-days of off-duty training.

The training was divided among classwork and hands-on experience, and included pedaling through cone obstacle courses at City Hall and an 18-mile trek through Houston and Peach counties.

In the classroom, officers learned the laws of operating a bicycle on public roadways, covered safety issues and even addressed nutrition.

“Most motorists don’t understand a bicycle is a legal vehicle and has the same rights as any motorist,” Hudgens said. In addition, bicycles ridden by police officers are clearly marked as police vehicles and include flashing blue lights and a bright strobe light, Hudgens said. An officer on a bicycle has as much right to pull over someone as an officer in a marked vehicle, he said.

Training also included arrest techniques such as the use of body and bicycle positions to box in a suspect. Future instruction will include firearms training. Officers wear gloves when bicycling, and that impacts how they fire a weapon.

“It’s not learning to shoot all over again, but it’s a different grip,” Hudgens said. “So, it’s a challenge for the officers.”

A TEST OF ENDURANCE

The 18-mile trek was designed to serve as both a training exercise and a confidence builder.

“It shows them that it can be done,” he said.

Other than whatever each does individually to keep physically fit, the officers had no additional or special training for the ride. During the journey, officers were expected to learn how to make the bicycles work for them by utilizing the range of gears. Knowing what gear to be in maximizes a cyclist’s efficiency and endurance.

During the journey, officers were also expected to depart from asphalt roadways down paths of gravel and rocks, along old dirt roads and wooded trails. Hudgens said he has learned some of the best trails and short cuts from local children. In heavy traffic, Hudgens said he can cross Centerville faster on bicycle than in a patrol car.

Most of the bicycles used for the training were on loan from Warner Robins and Macon police. Centerville has two police bicycles, valued at about $1,300 each, which were purchased with seized drug funds. Budget constraints and the economy will determine when additional bicycles may be purchased, police said. For now, the unit will operate in pairs. The bicycles can be carried on patrol cars, and the mounts can be moved from car to car as needed.

A POLICING TOOL

Centerville’s Assistant Police Chief Sid Andrews said the bicycle unit is utilized for special events, such as when it was deployed during the city’s 50th anniversary celebration.

The bicycle unit also comes in handy for policing parking lots during holiday shopping at The Galleria, which is within the city limits of Centerville. The unit also may be deployed in concentrated areas that may be experiencing a problem, such as a series of burglaries in a residential area.

Officers also will have opportunities to ride the bicycles through neighborhoods, a move Andrews believes will foster community and police relations.

When officers are working 12-hour shifts from behind the wheel of police car, there is little informal interaction with the community other than a wave as the officer passes by, Andrews said. But an officer on a bicycle provides an opportunity for dialogue with the public.

Such dialogue may help police battle crime.

Someone who might be reluctant to call 911 about a problem in his neighborhood may be willing to approach an officer on bicycle patrol, Andrews said.

“The No. 1 thing we’re excited about is the interaction with the community,” Andrews said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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