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Bernalillo Officers James Thomson (front) and Shane Hernandez practice their moves on a course laid out for a kids’ bike rodeo at Rotary Park.
Photo credit: —Bill Diven

Bernalillo bike cops back on patrol

—Bill Diven

Bernalillo police are finding two wheels can be better than four when it comes to patrolling the town and interacting with its residents.

“We’ve done a lot of public relations,” Officer James Thomson said. “We spend a lot of time just driving around town to let people know we’re out there… A lot of people like the idea. It’s a more approachable situation than being inside a unit.”

Thomson and Officer Shane Hernandez revived the bike patrols last year but hadn’t ridden as much as they hoped before going on winter hiatus. They began cycling again on a recent Saturday morning joining in a kids’ bike rodeo at Rotary Park in Bernalillo and monitoring traffic as nearby youth soccer games wrapped up.

“It’s not just a PR tool,” Hernandez said. “We can effect felony arrests.”

The officers still cruise regular shifts in patrol cars shifting to bikes mostly at events like the annual wine festival, which this year becomes a beer festival, or Bernalillo High School football games. And while there have been no pedal-power pursuits or arrests, the bike officers have responded as backup even arriving ahead of the four-wheeled officer dispatched on the call.

“We know all the alleyways, all the shortcuts,” Hernandez said.

“And no one is looking for us,” Thomson added.

Not long after the town hired Tom Romero as its new police chief in April 2014, Thomson and Hernandez approached him about formally establishing the bike patrols with proper gear, standards, and training.

“They took a lot of initiative to put the proposal together,” Romero said. “The certification is a benefit to the community. It wasn’t a hard sell.”

By September, Hernandez and Thomson, respectively three- and four-year veterans of the department, had earned their training certificates from the International Police Mountain Bike Association. The IPMBA, founded in 1992, has averaged nearly 3,400 officers a year going through its training programs since 2002, according to the organization.

As part of the program, the officers and their off-the-shelf bikes, both Specialized-brand Rockhoppers, needed to be outfitted for their roles. That tallied about two thousand dollars for each officer and his bike, although much of the gear was donated by High Desert Bicycles of Rio Rancho and the Bernalillo Walmart.

The upgrades included everything from high-intensity headlights and high-visibility uniforms to certified helmets, tools and “POLICE” decals.

With the hiring of a new officer approved by town councilors on April 13, the Bernalillo Police Department is again fully staffed at 21 officers. The bike patrol is just one several initiatives the department has in place or under consideration, Romero said.

“We’re trying to do a lot more community projects,” he said. “I’d like to get Neighborhood Watch back up and running.”

The department is also looking at using online social media like Facebook to keep in touch with residents, although there are legal questions still to be resolved, he added.

BPD also has launched a tip line where residents can report concerns about criminal activity that don’t require an immediate response by officers. Those calls can be made anonymously to 771-9643, which is answered by a message machine.

Romero is also reporting positive results from the work of the school resource officer assigned since last fall to Bernalillo High School. Under an agreement between the town and the school district, the officer is not to be a disciplinarian but is instead to interact with the students and to help identify individual and family problems.

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