Easton police embrace e
Police presence can mean everything, from the beat cop walking the neighborhood to police on horseback, patrol cars or on mountain bikes.
Now rolling in: the battery-powered-bike-beat cop, who rides with a motorized, rechargeable battery that powers an electric motor at speeds up to 25 mph. That boost provides police with assistance to climb hills and move faster in flat sections.
Easton police recently received two e-bikes and is among the growing number of communities locally and in the country to use them. Some 31 officers in the city, about half the force, are trained to ride mountain bikes. But two patrolmen recently have gone further and learned to ride, and embrace, e-bikes.
And neither Robert Jones, who's also the city's traffic officer, nor Jeff Crosson, who primarily patrols the downtown, plans to go back to traditional, pedal-and-pump mountain bikes.
"I love this thing," Jones said during a demonstration of his Trek bike and a later photo shoot with Crosson on Easton's Centre Square. Jones said he has raced mountain bikes as a teen and through college, and he was skeptical about how having a battery-powered motor would work attached to the frame.
E-bikes are electric bicycles that are more nimble than typical police cruisers and require less manpower than a regular pedal-powered bike.
In Easton, which is surrounded by hills, such as a steep climb on Washington Street between North Fourth and Fifth streets, is prime territory for the extra battery power, according to Jones.
"I rode this bike with full gear," Jones said. "I never went below 12 mph and I never got so winded that I couldn't hold a conversation. On a conventional bike, even the certified guys would have to get off and walk the bike."
They can also be helpful when pursuing criminals in spaces too narrow for police cruisers, such as parks with trails, gates and posts. "We can just go," Jones said.
Being able to shift the power helps with learning how to ride the e-bike, Jones said, because "faster is not always better. You need to definitely pay a lot more attention with them. You need to ride a little bit differently because the bike is heavy and not nimble."
When riding to specific calls, Crosson said, extra defensive driving is a must, with motorists sometimes unaware of the speedy bikes with silent, electric power.
"You have to be looking two, three steps ahead," he said. "You are so much more locked in, paying-attention-wise."
It is not known how many Lehigh Valley police departments have e-bikes. Allentown has bike patrols but not e-bikes, Mayor Matt Tuerk said. Maureen Becker, executive director of the International Police Mountain Bike Association in Baltimore, said to her knowledge, the e-bikes are being used by Lehigh University police and departments in Erie, Reading and Derry Township in Dauphin County.
Becker said e-bike police need specific training to ensure the safety of the rider and those around whom the bike is being operated. Jones, who teaches how to ride mountain bikes to officers, has expanded his expertise by taking eight additional hours of e-bike knowledge beyond the 40 the officers typically receive for mountain bike training. He trained Crosson as the other e-biker.
Bethlehem has had six e-bikes for more than a year, according to Capt. Nicholas P. Lechman, police spokesperson. Four are assigned to community policing and the other two are used by patrols at the city housing authority sites. The Housing Authority purchased its bikes while the city secured a grant for its four, he said.
"We’ve been very happy," Lechman said "If we can expand the number of e-bikes, we will continue to do so."
The bikes are expensive; Jones said the Easton e-bikes cost about $4,500 each. The Air Products Foundation provided a grant to the Greater Easton Development Partnership, which issued the money.
Lechman and Jones said the bikes are much heavier, making them more difficult to drive than traditional bikes when it comes to maneuvering around traffic or obstacles. The large lithium battery on the e-bike's frame adds to the weight. But the ability to climb hills or travel faster outweighs those concerns.
Police also are used to carrying extra gear around their waists and wearing bulletproof vests, so the challenge of biking to the scene of an accident or crime can become more difficult, even exhausting, according to Jones.
"An e-bike to me was waving the white flag and saying I’m too old; I need help," Jones said, "and I was just not really excited about that concept. But when I got on one, you can see what it can offer in terms of police work.
"I think it's an excellent tool that you are going to see more of. I definitely think this is where the future is."
Morning Call reporter Anthony Salamone can be reached at [email protected].
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