Interim police chief bikes for visibility, outreach -- Gazette.Net







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Outfitted in sunglasses, a helmet and a bright blue shirt, Takoma Park Interim Police Chief Drew Tracy gulped a protein drink around 8 a.m. Tuesday to prepare for his journey through the city.

As part of a new initiative, Tracy has decided to ramp up bike patrols to increase police visibility and accessibility—starting with him.

Tracy, who has served as the temporary chief since July 23, said he aims to bike around the city two days per week for about four hours at a time. He has welcomed other officers to join him when they can in the midst of busy schedules and running service calls.

So far, he said, he thinks he’s hit about 90 percent of the streets in the two-and-a-half-square mile city.

“I’m a big believer in high visibility,” Tracy said.

Tracy said as commander of the Montgomery County Police Department’s 3rd District station, he made sure officers engaged in foot and bike patrols in parts of downtown Silver Spring to offer law enforcement support for ongoing revitalization efforts.

In addition to being accessible and assuring residents, “[visibility] cuts down on any opportunity if someone has the inkling to commit a crime,” he said.

On a recent August morning, Tracy was just starting out on his bike when he had to respond to a call for a residential burglary, one of several that have recently taken place in the community.

There has been a string of at least six residential burglaries around the New Hampshire Avenue corridor and others in nearby Washington, D.C., neighborhoods in the past two weeks that police say are possibly connected.

Two men are targeting single-family homes during the day when they think they are empty and using stolen vehicles to make quick getaways, Tracy said.

He added the trees and foliage surrounding the houses provide coverage for the suspects.

One woman who lives in the 200 block of Spring Street walked in on the two suspects in her home. Tracy said police are concerned about future accidental confrontations.

Tracy said the department, which has “all hands on deck,” has gathered “some good forensic evidence,” which it will pass on to a Montgomery County lab for analysis.

While biking provides visibility that could stop or deter criminals, Tracy said it also can help him reach out to the community and look into issues first-hand.

“I’m one of those guys who likes to see things for myself,” he said.

One example, he said, included a case in which residents raised concerns about speeding cars the intersection of Central and Davis avenues. Tracy said he biked to the intersection and spoke with Heather Gleason, who lives at a corner of the intersection, about her experience.

Gleason said she and her neighbors have been talking about the issue for a while.

“The cars go so fast down Central,” Gleason said.

Tracy said he has submitted a recommendation from himself and other officers to City Manager Barbara Matthews for two additional stop signs to make the intersection a four-way stop.

Takoma Park residents said they think officers on bikes seem accessible.

Heather Hahn of Takoma Park said especially when officers are on bikes, “they seem like nice and approachable people.”

Phil Johnson, whose business does work in Takoma Park, said officers on bikes can be easier to talk to.

“Anybody that’s out and about is more approachable than someone who’s stuck in an office and you don’t seem them,” he said.

Officers who join Tracy on two wheels are required to pass a course to ensure they are in good physical shape and know certain skills, such as how to dismount properly and ride in both suburban and off-road conditions.

Sgt. Kurt Gilbert said he plans to join the chief on the roads.

“We’ve always made an effort to get guys on bikes,” Gilbert said, though manpower at the department is currently relatively low.

Tracy, he said, has been setting an example.

“We know that it serves an excellent purpose,” he said.