‘Citizen Observer Patrols’ act as eyes and ears for law enforcement

Volunteers two-wheeling it to help keep suburbia safe

By LONA O’CONNOR

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Original Link

Paul Hirsch looks like any other bicycle rider in Bellaggio, the big new gated community west of Lake Worth. But he carries a two-way radio and his white knit shirt has the letters "COP," written in four-inch-high letters on the back. His bike is a rough-and-ready Smith & Wesson.

And he actually uses a hand signal when he makes a turn.

COP, or Citizen Observer Patrol, cars are a familiar sight in suburban neighborhoods. COPs on bicycles are a much rarer sight. Out of about 3,500 citizen observers, only 60 ride bikes.

The bike patrol receives the same basic three-hour training for Palm Beach Sheriff’s volunteers, and then eight more hours of bike safety and maintenance. They patrol their neighborhoods, nearby shopping centers and parks and volunteer at helmet giveaways.

"A car is a car, but on a bike, you’re a person," Hirsch said.

Like all COP volunteers, the bike patrol’s duties are to observe and report, not to confront. If a neighbor expresses curiosity, they switch into recruitment mode.

Steve Bayer pedals down the street in Majestic Isles, greeting people as they pick up newspapers and put out garbage.

"Hey, O’Connell, welcome back!" he calls out to a returning snowbird.

Bayer, a retired garment salesman from Massapequa, N.Y., and his wife Enid, are bike patrollers at Majestic Isles, a 450-home community in suburban Boynton Beach. Bayer averages about 15 hours a month patrolling, and Enid about half that.

Bike patrollers, like all COP volunteers, are instructed not to enter a building under suspicious circumstances, or even pick up a wallet from the ground, which might be contaminating evidence.

Bike patrollers, like their counterparts in marked COP cars, are a simple but effective way to stretch crime-fighting resources.

"If a bad guy sees one of us, he’ll go somewhere else," Bayer said.

The basic bike patrol commitment is three hours a week, but many volunteers do much more than that.

Hirsch usually completes his 19-mile route through Bellagio twice in three hours.

Exercise and fresh air are obvious benefits, but pedaling down quiet streets also has a meditative quality, punctuated by the soft crackling voice on the two-way radio, bird songs and the whir of bike tires.

One of the other benefits is less obvious.

"I decided when I retired that I didn’t want to sit out there" – Steve Bayer gestured toward the large community pool – "and complain all day. I wanted to do something important."

For more information on bike patrol or other COP activities, call the sheriff’s volunteer office at (561) 433-2003.

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