By Travis Gulbrandson
While the University Police Department has used mountain bikes to patrol the USD campus since 2005 or 2006, it was a small program for much of that time.
That all changed in August, when eight UPD officers became certified to do bike patrols, and three Specialized Rockhoppers equipped with headlights, front suspension and disc brakes were acquired.
That gave the department four bikes in all, with a fifth that has yet to be assembled.
"We had the opportunity to really invest in the program, (raise) our numbers, get the extra bikes and gear that we needed to get everybody rolling," said Sgt. Sam Nelsen. "It was always something in the back of our mind, where we really wanted to step it up. It's something we've been working on for quite a few years. It just all came together this year, so to speak, and snowballed."
Nelson said the bikes are ideal for patrols, both in terms of interacting with students and accessing different areas of campus.
"I think the number-one advantage is, officers are a lot more approachable than they are in a car, because they're just riding around campus," he said. "Obviously, it's a lot easier to get around the inner part of campus on a bike than it is a car. We try to stay off the sidewalks with a car unless it's an emergency."
The bikes also make it easier to do the same necessary tasks in less time.
"We do lock-up every night on bikes, too, so you can just ride up to a door and give it a shake instead of having to drive up to the building, get out of the car, walk up to the door, walk back, sit down, put your seat belt on and drive to the next building," Nelsen said.
In addition to making patrols easier, the bikes also could save the UPD money.
"Outside of the startup costs of around $5,000, the mountain bikes will eliminate wear and tear on patrol cars, and reduce the amount of gas and maintenance costs annually," said UPD director Pete Jensen in a press release.
This summer, eight of the UPD's officers became certified to ride the bicycles on patrol.
Nelsen is one of only two officers in the state to be a certified International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA) instructor, and provided the necessary training.
The class takes a minimum of 32 hours, four days at eight hours per day, he said.
"You start at the very base level and you say, 'This is a bike and this is what it does, and this is how it works, these are the parts of it,' and you just kind of work up from there." Nelsen said. "By the end of the week they're riding down stairs and up stairs and doing tactical maneuvers."
The process of becoming an IPMBA instructor is even more complicated, with a required 40-hour instructor class.
"It's pretty rigorous," Nelsen said. "The first thing we did when we got there was take a test over all the material, and you have to score at least a 90 percent on that material to even continue in the class.
"Then you have to do a basic riding portion that you have to pass right away," he said. "That involves just riding some cold courses so that they can make sure they know you know what you're doing."
The rest of the week is filled out with written material, more tests and presentations, he said.
Along with the mountain bikes, the UPD acquired a Polaris utility vehicle. It seats two and does not utilize fuel to travel on campus, running instead on electricity.
"These are good assets for us," said UPD assistant director Dallas Schnack in a press release. "If you see an officer on a mountain bike or driving the utility vehicle, it starts a conversation. You don't have that opportunity in a car. It's not the same."