Bicycle Officers Roll Through Skills Training

Sept. 16, 2008 — The V.I. Police Department's bicycle-patrol officers are honing their bike-riding skills at a four-day skill-building class that began Monday at the Patrick Sweeny Command Center.
"This is to help the officers to respond fast to get to the aid of somebody," said Oakland Benta, acting chief of police for St. Croix.
The officers are learning how to improve maneuverability skills through crowds of people and streets crowded with vehicles. They're learning how to jump off their bikes at a sprint. They're learning bike maintenance and how to maintain their bodies at the high physical-fitness level needed to be an effective bike patrolman.
"This is a very valuable tool for the police department," Officer Joshua Williams said. "Learning to negotiate crowds is helpful with the cruise ships returning."
Eighteen officers are taking part in the class, with 12 from St. Croix and six from St. Thomas and Water Island.
"The officers are perfecting their skills to better serve the community," said Police Commissioner James McCall on Tuesday. "This is a win-win situation for the officers and the community."
Instructors for the course are officers Wes Branham and Joe Scalise from the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association. They came to St. Croix from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina.
In one session Tuesday, four officers at a time rode through orange cones in a figure-eight pattern, with instructions from Branham to "talk to each other" to let each other know where they were on the course as they crossed in front of each other.
Another session involved a water bottle hand off while maneuvering through traffic cones.
"This class is designed to build skills and confidence, at the same time teaching the correct riding techniques," Branham said.
The officers were serious about the classes, but it also appeared they had fun as they maneuvered around the parking lot at the station. A couple of guys took minor spills, and guffaws rang out.
The officers love what they're doing, Benta said.
"We welcome their enthusiasm," he said. "We hope it stays with these officers."
The officers will be tested on bike skills throughout the class, according to Scalise. If they need more practice to pass the course, they will get it. At the end of the course they will take a multiple-choice, 50-question test.
The long-range plan is to pick out four officers who excelled at this session and send them to Hilton Head, S.C., to take a "train the trainer" course, said Doug Jones, director of training.
"Training is a major emphasis in the department," he said.
The officers are eager to learn and good riders, Branham said.
"This has been very educational, and I'm learning a lot," Officer Hermimia Rivera said. "It is definitely going to make us more effective."
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