Bicycle cops patrol city |

Bicycle cops patrol city

Christina Proctor

At 5:30 p.m. Sgt. Steve O’Brien was surrounded by children clamoring for police collector cards. Two hours later he and his partner were arresting a fugitive.

“It was a pretty slow night,” O’Brien said after completing a five-hour shift Tuesday patrolling the South “Y” Center and Stateline on his bike. The patrol was slow in O’Brien and Officer Mark Allen’s estimates, but in five hours they contacted a variety of people who make up South Lake Tahoe’s community. It’s just a typical day, but it can include kids without helmets, tourists asking for directions, dogs chasing children, and getting a tip from an informant.

It’s about presence the officers said. On bikes they move slowly through the city making it easy for people to stop them. They ride with stealth into areas people don’t expect.

The South Lake Tahoe Police Department was getting repeated complaints from merchants and customers at the South “Y” Center. In a town with few places for teen-agers to hang out the shopping center became the place.

“We would park the bikes and go and join the group,” Allen said. “After a while they would move on.”

O’Brien said a steady police presence has almost ended the problem.

“It was an experimental thing last summer we just wanted to see where we could go with it,” O’Brien said. “The difference between patrolling in a car and on a bike is on a bike you get stopped every 10 seconds. It’s almost like a walking beat.”

Allen went after two eighth-graders who were riding through the parking lot sans helmets.

“All the helmets are at home,” Allen explained later, mimicking the children’s standard answer.

The boys were given written warnings and sent on their way after a short talk. The officers moved back into the neighborhoods occasionally stopping and talking to a resident along the way.

“Seventy to 80 percent of what we do is that,” O’Brien said, after leaving a group of children, who were full of questions. “We need more of this.”

The department is staffing a bike patrol seven days a week from 4 to 9 p.m. due to an influx of state grant money. The police received $51,000 from the Option for Public Safety Program. The money can only be used to enhance law enforcement. It can’t supplant existing programs. The South Lake Tahoe City Council approved use of the funds for narcotics enforcement, gang prevention, specific traffic enforcement, domestic violence prevention, and community policing.

O’Brien suggested using the bike patrol to focus on problem areas.

The shifts are overtime hours for the officers. They can’t be spared from their regular patrol hours. Cmdr. Bart Owens said the department is hoping to receive more grant money next year.

The officers keep their patrol car at a central point during patrol.

“We like to keep the car close by,” O’Brien said. “It’s kind of like an office for us. It also works as a temporary holding facility.”

The Stateline area is dotted with an odd mixture of elegance and abject poverty. Weekly motel rooms stuffed full with entire families are common.

“Some of those rooms and apartments can be the most clean and neat you have ever seen it’s amazing,” Allen said.

Interspersed among those families can be places the officers describe as flop houses.

At one of the motels O’Brien stopped to talk with an gray-haired balding man living in a motor home on the property. The top window of the camper was totally obstructed and almost seemed to stretch out, pressed by stuff crammed into too small a space. The motels along Pioneer Trail are in an area they regularly patrol and the man, not a stranger to jail, knew both officers.

A man’s entrance into the Jackpot Inn raised O’Brien and Allen’s suspicions. The motel is part of the redevelopment area and almost totally boarded up. The man presented paperwork claiming he has the right to live there, but the point was moot. After running his name O’Brien learned Daniel Comstock was wanted for failing to appear in court on a drunk driving charge.

“Being on the bikes allows us to talk more with community members and target problem areas that the officers on patrol might not have time for,” O’Brien said.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail:

Visitors Guide | News | Diversions | Marketplace | Weather | Community

Copyright, Materials contained within this site may

not be used without permission.


Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.