The boots on the ground for the Fairfax County Police Department include the numerous bicycle squads cruising throughout the county, keeping communities safe while interacting with the public on a daily basis. These bicycle squads, called Neighborhood Patrol Units “remove the barrier between the officers and the public,” said Sgt. Scott Shafer, a police spokesperson who started his career as part of the bike team based out of the Franconia District Station. “They enjoy that outreach,” he said of the bike officers.
There are about 60-70 bicycle officers in the various districts around the county, divided into units of up to eight riders and one captain. It would seem the weather would have some impact, but it’s a year-round duty that most of the first-year officers participate in while they climb the ladder through the ranks.
“They certainly are equipped to be out in all weather,” Shafer said.
There are certain events throughout the year that the neighborhood patrol units usually work, such as local parades or the National Night Out in the late summer. Those opportunities were limited this year due to the pandemic. The bike patrol teams often receive special assignments when concerns are raised by community members or at the direction of the commanders at each district station. For example, the Neighborhood Patrol Units were part of the arrest at Springfield Town Center in January 2019 when a suspect was videoing in the dressing room. A NPU was involved in another arrest when a fugitive escaped at Mount Vernon Hospital last winter, and they were involved in another residential burglary in 2018. Due to the nature of this type of patrol, they were able to be present in a neighborhood where robberies were reported, and didn’t attract as much attention as a squad car may have.
Reston has a large number of bike paths going through the community and this provides an ideal NPU environment, so the Reston bike squad puts in a lot of miles, while other districts are a little less rideable. Mount Vernon, for instance: the NPU riders do occasionally go on the Mount Vernon bike trail, but that is predominantly patrolled by the National Park Service.
“All the bike patrols across the county are pretty active,” said Shafer.
There are some rules for the bike officers to follow, both qualifying to be a rider and rules of the road, laid out in Fairfax County Police Department general order #530.4, dated July 1, 2012. “It shall be the policy of the Fairfax County Police Department to implement the use of bicycles by officers whenever such methods will result in an improved level of service to the community,” the order states. Bicycle officers must go through a training course and complete a “ride-along,” with another officer before official duty starts. At least two bike officers must work together on a patrol, and they need to wear a helmet and ballistic vest.
The bicycles they use are mountain bikes made by Trek, Cannondale and Volcanic.
At Volcanic, “police mountain bike” is one of their special models.
In 2005, a police officer in Seattle complained that the patrol bike was breaking down, and that’s how Volcanic started creating a rugged bike that many police departments across the country use, including Fairfax County. “Volcanic APB (Approach Patrol Bicycles) are designed and manufactured specifically for the bicycle patrol industry to the standards required to withstand the rigors of daily patrol,” their website states.