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Police with pedals promote safety on bike trail

Police Officer James Ross begins a bike patrol shift last Saturday. (Judd Martinson | Echo Press)1 / 2
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When it comes to bike patrol in Alexandria, James Ross is a force of one.

The Alexandria Police Department runs a special effort to keep the Central Lakes Trail safe and fun in the Alexandria area with Officer James Ross patrolling on a bicycle.

"I can go wherever," Ross said.

Ross primarily patrols the bike trail, but he also spends time around town where he sometimes responds to calls if he's in the area.

Most of the time, Ross patrols with the goal of being a visible and positive influence to the community, but he also does night surveillance and protects against drugs.

"A lot of people aren't expecting an officer to pull up on a bike," said Ross.

During the day, Ross encourages people to wear helmets and teaches them about bike safety. He hands out Dairy Queen free ice cream cone coupons to kids he finds wearing helmets while riding bikes, scooters or trikes. When he works at night, his duty is more surveillance.

One law Ross teaches many people about is using a headlight and taillight or rear reflector when riding bike at night.

He doesn't only talk to fellow bike riders. "I have made traffic stops on the bike," said Ross.

How does he do that? "Pedal hard and yell loud," answered Ross.

Most of the time, Ross will ask another officer in a car to assist with traffic stops, but if he pulls up next to someone while riding bike, he can easily check if they're wearing seatbelts.

Police Chief Rick Wyffels said bike officers take special training for bike riding, as they need to learn to ride safely while observing surroundings and encountering individuals.

Ross said he and Sgt. Kevin Guenther attended a weeklong training course by the International Police Mountain Biking Association.

During the training, they learned how to ride up and down stairs, ride in downtown Minneapolis during rush hour, maneuver through a crowd using their bikes for defense and blocking crowds in a mob setting, and shooting a firearm while patrolling on a bike.

"It's actually a pretty demanding course," said Ross.

When asked if he rides up and down many stairs in Alexandria, Ross jokingly said no because he doesn't want anyone to see him wipe out. However, after the special training he said the officers got pretty good at it. Much of his job in Alexandria is about positive interaction with the community, said Ross.

"We want kids and family to see us," said Wyffels about officers patrolling on bike during the day, being visible and wearing helmets to set a good example.

He said the main thing about riding bike is to have a good time, to avoid drugs and alcohol, and wear a helmet. He said to call the police if a problem arises.

Wyffels said the bike trail is generally a safe place and the police department wants to help people, even if it's with something like a flat bike tire.

Recent crash

Still, the trail does have its incidents.

Avid biker Blake Steinbring of Alexandria recently crashed his bike after what he called "punk skateboarders" ran him off the Central Lakes Trail.

Steinbring said he joined the Big Ole Bike Club after the crash to help raise safety awareness.

The crash, near the YMCA, sent Steinbring to the emergency room.

According to police reports, the crash was an accident and police spoke with the longboarders.

Police Captain Scott Kent said there was no evidence to prove the crash was anything other than an accident.

"It's heavily, heavily utilized," said Kent about the bike trail. He said he thinks the number of accidents on the bike trail is fairly low, considering how much the trail is used.

Staying Safe

Kevin Risner, president of the Big Ole Bike Club, provided safety tips for bikers:

• Be aware of others on the trail. In other words, don't get distracted by music.

• Announce yourself within 50-100 feet when passing someone.

• Walk and ride on the right hand side of the path.

• Wear reflective clothing before sunrise or after sunset.

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