No Emporia Police Officer has manned the bike patrol unit since July, said Police Chief Gary Smith.
At the same time, property vandalism has increased downtown, Smith said.
“The unit exists, but there is no one in it because we don’t have the staffing to fill it right now,” he said. “Once we get everybody hired, probably toward the end of this year, maybe by October ... we maybe can get it back up.”
Smith said when he had 41 officers in 2011, he had to put the officers from the biker unit into car patrols because he did not have enough police to cover the regular shifts. The bike unit used to have enough officers to staff four all the time.
“But we haven’t been able to do that since 2008,” he said.
The bike unit’s primary focus was the downtown area around the university, Smith said.
“They basically have a call just like everybody else does,” he said. “They are just on a bicycle instead.
“We also use them if we are like having problems with vandalism in some part of town or car break-ins, something like that. A lot of times we would put them out in those areas to see if they can catch somebody.”
Sharon Ewing, the owner of Designs by Sharon, said as a business owner, she is very concerned about not having the bike unit.
“We lost a big, big asset to our downtown to help protect us,” Ewing said.
She said the bike police officers can sneak up on people.
“You can see those white cars coming,” Ewing said. “... You don’t see those bicycle cops ... until they are right there. .... I think they cut down on a lot of crime.”
Designs by Sharon is a florist at 703 Commercial St., which is north of Natasha’s Billiards & Lounge at 627 Commercial. Ewing’s shop is also next to a bar, at 707 Commercial, that she said is about to open back up after being closed for a year.
She said she gave permission to the bike officers to stake out the bars from her outside foyer, and they caught drunks getting in their cars, underage drinkers and people who had open containers.
“I have these big planter pillars that I’ve had outside, one was knocked over completely,” Ewing said. “They pulled down a banner that I had because the drunks were swinging on it.
“... I found bottles and stuff in this back alley. On an average Monday, I bet there is a dozen bottles or beer cans in this parking lot in the back.”
When the bike patrol was out there, it did an excellent job, she said. When the temperature gets warmer in the spring and the summer, bringing back the unit in the fall is not going to help.
“My concern is that they spend all that money for gas (on cars),” Ewing said. “They don’t have to spend any gas money for bicycles.”
She said she saw the bike unit riding in the Christmas Parade, and she thinks many citizens think the biker officers are still patrolling the city.
“All the citizens and taxpayers need to know why we are not seeing them,” Ewing said.
The visibility of a car still helps with deterrence, said Casey Woods, the executive director of Emporia Main Street. Although, the bike officers can also help deter and catch people in the act.
“I think probably their biggest asset being on a bike, they are able to interact with people easier,” Woods said. “When you have additional staff that is able to get out in the public and communicate with business owners or people in neighborhoods that allows you to deter crime or identify crime before it becomes rampant or more pervasive in an area.
“So there are some advantages to that mode of travel, but there are some advantages to just having a police force that has the staffing level that allows you to get out into the community, period.”