CSI: Bike Patrol Puts Brakes On West Melbourne Crime
By John M. Egan // June 18, 2013
Community Policing Forte Of Elite Unit
BREVARD COUNTY • WEST MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – To many of us the familiar slogan ‘reach out and touch’ evokes an advertisement for a national communications company or the title of a popular 1970’s song.
But for law enforcement and especially for members of the West Melbourne Police Department, it is their credo for community policing by reaching out into their community and communicating with citizens they are sworn to protect.
In the city of West Melbourne there is a team of police officers who not only supplement the regular patrol officers as they reach into the neighborhoods and business communities with a welcoming hand, but they do so as they patrol on bicycles.
At the helm of the West Melbourne Police Department is newly appointed Police Chief Richard T. Wiley.
He is a Philadelphia native, a seasoned law enforcement veteran and a former bike patrol supervisor who always had the desire of working in law enforcement.
“As a young man growing up in Philadelphia, I just wanted to be a police officer,” said Wiley. “It is such a proud and intriguing profession and I wanted to be a part of it.”
In 1981, Wiley applied for and was accepted as a recruit in Class # 254 at the Philadelphia Police Academy.
In a 24-year career with the Philadelphia Police Department, he rapidly rose through the ranks from police officer to Sergeant, Lieutenant Captain and Staff Inspector.
During those 24 years, Wiley was innovative and instrumental in the formation of an arson unit that thwarted a rash of fires which were being set by drug dealers to intimidate the community, as well helping create a very successful neighborhood bike patrol.
In 2005, he retired from the Philadelphia Police Department to accept the position of Chief of Police in the township of Lower Swatara, Pa., a small town just outside of Harrisburg.
While there, he led a staff of 16 sworn officers and one civilian employee.
“I truly enjoyed my time there as chief, I had a great staff,” said Wiley. “After seven years with Lower Swatara, my wife and I decided to move to Florida and further my law enforcement career here.
“Through a network of the Police Chiefs Associations throughout the country there was a position listed as available in the city of West Melbourne for a police chief,” he said.
“Their department was much larger with 35 sworn officers and seven civilian personnel than my previous department. I knew this would be perfect for me.”
Wiley submitted his resume’ and after his interview he was selected by the West Melbourne City Council and sworn in as their police chief last August.
“Upon my appointment I was looking for a seasoned law enforcement veteran from Florida to fill the position of deputy chief,” Wiley said.
“I contacted the Chief of the Daytona Police Department, Michael Chitwood. He and I worked together in Philadelphia. I asked him if there was an officer at his department who would be interested in coming to West Melbourne and working for me.”
Several officers expressed interest. One was Dan Swartzfager. Wiley also interviewed three other candidates and found that Swartzfager was the right fit for his team in West Melbourne.
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
West Melbourne Deputy Police Chief Dan Swartzfager is a native Floridian. He brings to the West Melbourne Police Department more than 27 years of law enforcement and experience with the Daytona Beach Police Department.
He served in numerous units from patrol, street crime, narcotics and supervisor of a motorcycle unit.
Like Chief Wiley, Swartzfager rapidly rose through the ranks to Deputy Shift Supervisor and motor unit supervisor, overseeing such challenging events as the college spring breaks, bike week and the Daytona 500, and assuring the safety of all the revelers who visit Daytona to enjoy those events.
Deputy Chief Swartzfager was the recipient of the Fraternal Order of Police Officer of the year award in 1990.
“Together we did an evaluation of the department and made several changes and one of the changes was our bike patrol,” Wiley said.
BIKE PATROL SUCCESS
As a sergeant in Philadelphia, Wiley was a supervisor of their bike patrol. He was not only the leader, but an active member of the team who along with other officers made arrests while in uniform and in plain clothes while on a bicycle.
In one month’s time, Wiley recalls the unit amassed more than 1,000 arrests for thefts, narcotics and arson.
“The success of our bike patrol was the direct result of our positive relationship we had through community policing with the residents and the community groups,” Wiley said.
“We worked hand-in-hand with United Neighbors Against Drugs and Communities United Against Drugs in the high crime areas of Philadelphia. And through our relationship with those groups we made a major impact.”
He said that in one particular neighborhood the residents were more open to police and they were able to establish a trust.
“Through that trust we obtained information about a plan by a high profile drug dealer to place a bomb under one of our Mini Police Stations which our bike officers and narcotics enforcement unit worked out of,” he said.
“That plan was thwarted and the individual was arrested and prosecuted federally.”
West Melbourne it is totally different and a growing community, whose population is approaching 20,000 residents within an area of about 11 square miles.
“There is not a lot of violent crime, but we have our property crimes to include commercial and residential burglaries, retail thefts and thefts from vehicles,” Wiley said.
“From my perspective this is a very good department and well-funded.”
The city’s bike patrol supervisor is Lieutenant Richard Cordeau, a 15-year veteran of the West Melbourne Police Department.
“We have had the bike patrol for more than 10 years and it has never been as active as it is now.” West Melbourne Police Lieutenant Richard Cordeau
Along with his other duties, Cordeau supervises the bike patrol and assesses potential trouble spots and deploys the bike patrol officers accordingly.
“We have had the bike patrol for more than 10 years and it has never been as active as it is now,” Cordeau said. “The bike patrol has mainly been a vehicle we use to put our officers into the community, to make contact with home owners, business owners, store managers and to be more approachable and meet them face to face.
“We teach the young school children of the community bike safety, wear their helmet and ride on the bike path, not on the roadway and to stop at intersections among a few,” he said.
West Melbourne officers are often deployed in the evenings, patrolling business areas and neighborhoods.
“Many have knocked on some resident’s doors informing them their garage door is open,” Cordeau said. “And almost all, even having been awakened at 3 in the morning were very thankful.”
Cordeau said the unit has been very successful in neighborhoods that were experiencing residential burglaries and bike patrol officers were able to get in there, sneak up on the suspects and not be seen as they would in patrol car to make arrests.
“When they’re deployed in business areas, they simply don’t ride through. They stop and talk to the business owners and ask if there are there any particular concerns.” West Melbourne Police Chief Richard Wiley on the department’s bike patrols
“When they’re deployed in business areas, they simply don’t ride through. They stop and talk to the business owners and ask if there are there any particular concerns,” he said. “If so, what is their nature, is there a particular time of day or night they occur. We may not be there when it occurs, but they don’t hesitate to call us.”
He said it’s more of a meet-and-greet that the unit has with the business owners and residents.
“They get to know the officers and we get to know them. It gives us a better relationship and establishes a confidence between the police and the community,” Cordeau said.
To supplement the bike patrol as a community policing vehicle, Wiley has initiated a Park and Walk program for the officers.
The officers will park their patrol vehicles and walk into the various residential and business communities. There they will do security checks and meet and greet the residents and business owners.
“This new policy of Park and Walk has become very effective and especially with the many schools in West Melbourne,” Wiley said.
“The officers will enter the schools and introduce themselves to the faculty and students.
“This sends a major message. First, the officers become familiar with the interior of facility and the personnel, and secondly the children see the police officers, it is a very positive interaction for them,” Wiley said.
“When we are there not because of an issue, we are there visiting.”
The parents see the officers as they drop off their children and when they pick them up, according to Wiley.
“I received a call the other day from a concerned parent inquiring as to why a police car was at the school. I explained it was one of my new policies for community policing,” he said. “Now through a web site with the schools and our police department, we notify the parents that we will be visiting the schools.”
Officer Michelle Page has been on the job with the West Melbourne Police for the past two years.
She brings to the department a distinguished 22-year career in law enforcement with the United States Army as a Military Police Officer serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a tactical training NCO ( Non Commissioned Officer) for more than 150 Military Police Officers.
Retiring as Master Sergeant in 2009, she continued to pursue the field of law enforcement. Through a crossover program at Brevard County Community College for prior military police, she received her law enforcement certification in 2010.
Page applied for a position as a police officer with the West Melbourne Police Department and was sworn in that same year.
To further her career and at the same time enjoy the Florida weather and stay physically fit, Page submitted a request to be part of the department’s bike patrol.
Last September, she enrolled in a grueling 80-hour curriculum with the Florida law enforcement bike patrol training programs in Orlando.
“When I am out of the car, I find people approach me more. I am more interactive with the community and it also keeps me physically fit and I like the fresh air.” West Melbourne Police Bike Patrol Officer Michelle Page
“We rode more than 120 miles during our training up and down stairs over and around curbs and it was very physically demanding,” said Page. “We worked in teams with other officers performing tactical maneuvers and simulated traffic stops and investigations. If you could not keep up the pace, you were placed in another group who needed a little more training to increase their stamina, but eventually we all came through and enjoyed the valuable training.”
She said she like the bike patrol because she has better interaction with people.
“When I am out of the car, I find people approach me more. I am more interactive with the community and it also keeps me physically fit and I like the fresh air,” she said.
Page has initiated traffic stops while on a bicycle and received training in how to approach and position a bicycle during a traffic stop.
“We do security checks of vehicles and check if the vehicle is locked or not and if valuables are in plain view,” she said. “I will leave a notice on their car if I observe valuables in plain view.
“Most of my patrol is during the evening hours and a number of businesses are closed or about to close. I am very proactive as I ride through the shopping centers and neighborhoods at night,” Page said.
“I am a presence, and I believe, it deters crime without knowing it. There may be someone out there who is up to no good and is looking for that patrol car and not expecting to see a police officer on a bicycle.”
On one particular Sunday night, Officer Page made herself known as she entered the Marshalls store in the Hammock Landing shopping center in West Melbourne.
She introduced herself to the store’s co-coordinator, Linda Smith of Palm Bay. Smith was somewhat surprised and then relieved.
“The officer was very friendly and put me at ease,” Smith said.
“It just made me feel better that their officers are out there patrolling at night on a bicycle through this center and it made me feel safer and especially at closing time when our employees are leaving.”
Jarred Spradlin of West Melbourne said he was pleased to see the bike patrol officer as he finished his evening shopping trip.
“I have lived in West Melbourne for more than two years and I feel very safe,” Spradlin said. “I sometimes mistakenly leave my car unlocked and that won’t happen again after talking to Officer Page.”
“Through attrition and officers moving from assignments and promotions, it has been difficult to maintain a steady bike patrol, but we are endeavoring to do it,” he said. “We are looking at other officers who are interested in it and have them certified through the training program in Orlando. We’ll put them out there with all new equipment and a bike that fits them because they have various frame sizes.”
He said the department hopes to look for donations to help them accomplish their goal through the support of local businesses.
Along with a bike patrol, West Melbourne also has two full-time canine officers.
Officer Sean Cronin is teamed with his canine partner Echo and Officer Patrick Kenny is with his canine partner Boton.
“A K-9 unit is a fantastic unit to have within your police department,” Wiley said. “They are used for missing children, building searches and tracking suspects, and are tremendous and important for community relations.
“People like dogs. When we have events, the K-9’s are present as it is great for the adults and especially the children,” Wiley said. “The K-9 unit, like our bike patrol, is another invaluable aspect of community policing.”
The West Melbourne Police Department is at 2290 Minton Road in West Melbourne. For more information, call 321- 723-9673.