Common biking wisdom has it that cyclists should always keep their eyes on the road.
But for Sgt. Dale Amyotte of the Saskatoon Police Service’s bike patrol unit, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Seated atop his Norco Revolver mountain bike, gliding stealthily down garbage-bin-lined downtown alleyways and the South Saskatchewan River shore, Amyotte is constantly craning his helmeted head left and right.
“It’s very important to have your head on a swivel,” he said.
A long way from 1992
The bike unit marks its 25th anniversary this year, having launched with seven members in the summer of 1992.
When Amyotte began his first bike stint in the early 2000s, “I’d just gotten asked because there weren’t enough applicants for it,” he said.
Today, candidates have to interview for limited spots amongst the unit’s 18 members (including Amyotte and one other sergeant, who oversee the unit). Together, the members command an average annual operational budget of just under $50,000 (not including salaries).
Physically, the demands of working the bike beat have risen as the police force in general has grown younger over the years.
“When I started, there was no physical test,” said Amyotte. “But as we have evolved as a service, there is a minimum physical test you must pass. Minimum run, so many pull-ups, so many push-ups.”
New bike members receive training from the Florida-based Law Enforcement Bicycle Association, or a Saskatoon member who’s been through there.
LEBA teaches a bi-annual crash course in everything from how to safely discharge a gun or taser after falling to the ground to flinging your bike toward a suspect.
Also, how to boulder up and down stairs without fear.
“Obviously we face far more cars riding on the road than we do bad guys with any type of weapon that pose us a danger,” said John Rape, a North Carolina officer of 25 years and the vice-president of LEBA.
But what challenges does a Saskatoon bike cop face on a sunny summer day in August, besides the near-constant threat of sweating under the weight of at least 20 pounds of…