By James Walter for Eugene Daily News
Photos by R.L. Stollar, EDN
If you frequent downtown Eugene, the U of O campus or Autzen Stadium during Duck games, you know that bike patrol officers are a regular part of the scene. They might be so regular, in fact, that most people take them for granted.
But these men and women are highly trained law enforcement officers who have gone through rigorous selection and training. To patrol downtown on those black bicycles in their bulky black uniforms, applicants must pass a written test and go through a 40-hour background screening process, in which a veteran officer is assigned to find out everything about the applicant.
After clearing the screening, applicants are put through scenario exams and a psychological evaluation to test their personalities and their ability to deal with crucial situations. The entire process is very competitive, as the scores from these tests are ranked according a list, from which the top few are chosen for the officer positions. Larry Crompton, a sergeant who supervises the downtown bike patrol team, estimates that for every 300 applicants, there are about a dozen who are qualified by the standards of the Eugene Police Department (EPD).
Once a somewhat popular career option, applications for patrol officers are now experiencing a declining trend nationally. Crompton says,
“When I was hired here 19 years ago, there were 10 positions open and a thousand applicants. But nowadays, if we have 10 openings and 300 applicants, that would be good.” One reason, he thinks, is the relatively low average life expectancy of officers on account of constant stress. “We’re not talking regular stress. Dealing with the criminal element, dealing with the politics, dealing with the commands, internal issues. Over the course of a career, it takes a toll.”
The EPD has a flexible policy for supplying bike patrols in different locations. There are around 60 bike patrols in Eugene, each assigned to patrol specific areas when needed. The downtown and midtown areas, for example, are Crompton’s territory. He is in charge of a 9-person team, the staffing of which rotates throughout the week — but always keeping 4 officers patrolling in pairs. On top of this, there are additional patrols to cover the bar and party scenes downtown and close to campus depending on the time of day and year.
On average weekdays, there is one bike patrol officer for every 4 regular officers who patrol in cars. On evenings, however, the number of regular officers rises. The regular officers call the bike patrols when they spot something suspicious, because the bike patrols can access areas that police cars cannot.
The University of Oregon campus bike patrols look just like those going around downtown. But they are part of the University’s Department of Public Safety (DPS), an agency separate from the EPD.
Like the EPD, however, the staffing of bike patrols is flexible. According to Julie Brown of the University media relations, the department deploys bike officers depending on the time of the year, time of the day, and the events that happen on campus. Brown says,
“Autzen Stadium during a football game is an example of a great time to deploy bike patrol officers.”
Brown adds that while there are officers patrolling in vehicles, bike officers are more effective in the core campus area.
“They are more approachable and are able to get to areas on campus that are not open to vehicles.”
Brown also noted that there is currently a proposal that has been put forth to reorganize the bike patrol program. This proposal is part of the Campus Policing Initiative that the DPS hopes to implement through Senate Bills 116 and 405, both currently under consideration on the Oregon House floor. The legislation would allow the DPS to become a sworn police agency and thus on equal footing with the EPD.
The DPS presently has only a handful of sworn law enforcement officers. The rest are Public Safety Officers who wield only limited authority. According to the Eugene Daily Emerald, they can and have hauled individuals to prison at the request of the EPD. Furthermore, the DPS can bring cases involving some minor offenses to Eugene Municipal Court, such as carrying an open bottle of alcohol or possession of less than an once of marijuana. But when it comes to investigating crimes at felony level and establishing court cases with the Lane County District Attorney, the DPS must rely on other law enforcement agencies.
The DPS is responsible for patrolling the main campus, off-campus University housing facilities, the sporting complex around Autzen Stadium, as well as other university-related areas. But if DPS officers see criminal activity while driving from one of their patrol territories to another, they must coordinate with the EPD in order to arrest the offenders. The Eugene police can take up to four hours to arrive on campus after receiving a call by DPS dispatch. DPS Patrol Officer Sean Bathwaite says that, rather than going through the lengthy coordination, he would like to transport suspects to jail directly.
Looking towards the passage of the Senate Bills, the DPS has begun making plans for its potential implementation. According to DPS Chief Doug Tripp, these plans include a two-week refresher course for current sworn officers through the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, as well as the full-length academy for the other officers.
The Initiative would also affect bike patrol officers. Brown explained that,
“[It] would require bike officers to attend a 40 hour training program prior to patrolling, create a system of maintenance, and standardize uniforms and equipment, amongst other things.”
The officers who complete the training will wear the new uniform with a gold patch emblazoned with “Police” across the top.
DPS Communications Director Kelly McIver said,
“[Becoming a full-fledged police force on campus] is a part of our effort to be more responsive to campus needs. Because of our proximity to campus, our response can be very fast — faster than now [with the EPD].”