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Police get closer to community

Bikes provide agility, chance to meet people

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Deputy Kevin Faires doesn't refer to himself as athletic, though his job entails riding a bike 12 hours a day, four days a week.

Columbia County Deputies Thomas Beauford (left) and Juan Rivera are among the eight officers who perform bike patrol duty.
  Jim Blaylock/Staff
Jim Blaylock/Staff
Columbia County Deputies Thomas Beauford (left) and Juan Rivera are among the eight officers who perform bike patrol duty.

"I'm in fair shape, I'd say. Average, I guess," he said.

Faires chose to be on the Columbia County Sheriff's Office bike squad four years ago because it was the closest he could get to "community-oriented policing."

Each of the eight officers in the bike patrol applied for that duty. "We didn't have to make anybody," Columbia County sheriff's Lt. Sharif Chochol said.

Deputy Mark Benson joined the patrol in 1998. As a recreational bicyclist, he said, it was the next step.

"I just don't like being cooped up in a car," he said.

In Richmond County, the sheriff's office has a bike patrol with two officers, including London Eubanks, who helped create its first team in 1993.

"It was like the best thing since sliced bread," he said. "It gets back into old community police work."

The idea for a bike patrol in Columbia County first arose in the summer of 1994 with then-Sheriff Otis Hensley, Chochol said.

After completing the mountain bike class, the first group of officers began their rounds that November.

Hensley had died a month earlier and never got to see the patrol's implementation, Chochol said.

Depending on the number of calls he receives, Faires said, he averages 15-20 miles a day on his bike, but has pedaled as far as 30 miles.

The only health and fitness requirement for officers is to pass a weeklong certification class, but they say the job shouldn't be taken lightly.

"Riding down Washington Road at 5 in the afternoon is not for the faint of heart," Faires said.

The challenging physical aspect is worth it for the relationships officers make with people.

"The public loves them," Chochol said. "In fact, we deploy them elsewhere and when the businesses notice they're not there, they start calling wanting to know where their bike patrol is."

Eubanks said the people he encounters on his downtown beat welcome him. Although the officers are off the streets by nightfall, he wants to see the bike patrol make an appearance during First Friday.

"If you put two or three guys down there (on First Friday), then you put the fear back," he said.

Like other officers, bike patrolmen carry guns and handcuffs. They also carry water bottles.

The officers cover accidents just as someone with a car would.

Especially during rush hour, Benson said, being on a bicycle can be an advantage.

"We can get in and out of a lot of places a vehicle can't," he said.

Recently, Columbia County officers were called to Thurmond Lake, where a woman had gone missing on one of the trails. Without them, it would have been a walking search, Benson said.

When being pursued by officers on bikes, suspects often don't recognize the officers, enabling them to get closer quicker.

"You hear, you see, you smell -- things you couldn't do in a patrol car," Eubanks said.

In the event of an arrest, bike patrol officers call another deputy for transport.

For safety issues, officers have the option of switching to a patrol car in extreme weather.

Despite the recent wave of heat advisories, Faires said, he's been pretty lucky and hasn't had to switch to the car yet.

When it gets too hot, he and his partner stop to check in on businesses and get some water before hopping back on their bicycles.

Officers can also switch to their cars when the temperature goes under 40 degrees or when it rains.

Faires said that drivers are usually really good about watching out for them and that he tries to stick to traveling in parking lots as an extra precaution.

"We have never had an accident involving a bike and a vehicle," Benson said.

Columbia County officers also lead bicycle demonstrations and safety courses across the area for children.

Faires said he plans to stay in the position as long as he's able.

Benson agrees.

"I was in love with it when I came to do it, and it hasn't changed since," he said.

Patrol routes

Pairs of officers in Columbia County are divided between a 12-mile loop in Evans and Martinez, Deputy Kevin Faires said.

MARTINEZ LOOP: the officers will pedal to the county line on Bobby Jones Expressway near Walmart, then down Washington Road and sometimes out to Publix on Furys Ferry Road, he said.

EVANS LOOP: Officers travel to Ace Hardware on Gibbs Road to the Target area in Mullins Crossing shopping center and everywhere in between.

RICHMOND COUNTY: Officers cover everything between Fourth and 13th streets.

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Jay Voorhees
Jay Voorhees 08/14/10 - 03:31 am
These officers are cool, we

These officers are cool, we appreciate their efforts! Thank y'all!

TrukinRanger 08/14/10 - 09:23 am
I've personally never seen

I've personally never seen them in downtown Augusta... They should station 2 at Riverwalk 24 hours a day....

Riverman1 08/14/10 - 09:23 am
The bike cops are a valuable

The bike cops are a valuable tool for law enforcment. I'd encourage them to get off their bikes often and walk around. Get to know the people. Drink a soda with them. The cops on the beat in the old days of black and white movies KNEW those on their beat. The people are the biggest asset in law enforcement and this helps. Sheriff Andy knew everyone, the people knew him and he could police Mayberry effectively with only the doofless, traditional Barney to help him. Bike cops are an enhanced version of the effective beat cops of the past.

trimmy 08/14/10 - 12:35 pm
I know Kevin and he makes a

I know Kevin and he makes a great bike patrol officer.

ArmedandLegal 08/14/10 - 12:37 pm
I agree about the Riverwalk

I agree about the Riverwalk comment.

Good thing SB308 has passed, so even if there is a "public" event down there you can now legally be armed.

Emerydan 08/14/10 - 12:46 pm
This is the type of thing

This is the type of thing Lori Davis would work with the Sheriff to implement in Augusta if she is elected mayor. Community oriented policing is a major part of her platform.

Sweet son
Sweet son 08/14/10 - 03:46 pm
Deptuy Eubanks did not

Deptuy Eubanks did not mention it in the article but he probably started the first bike patrol program in Augusta at the Medical College of Georgia when the was a Police Officer there.

Discussionstarter 09/01/10 - 07:11 pm
I support the initiative. I

I support the initiative. I do not agree with them having to ride in pairs; we could cover twice the ground at the same cost if they split up. They have radios which can bring help immediately.

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