The chief says cops on bikes can observe areas difficult to see from squad cars.

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YAKIMA — Bicycle patrols are nothing new to Yakima. They’re often used downtown on summer weekends and during music festivals and other big community events.

But interim Chief Gary Jones wants more officers on bikes and not just when downtown tasting rooms, restaurants and theaters are busy.

He hopes to integrate bicycle patrols with the department’s street crime unit, because cops on bikes are more mobile in some situations; they can peer into areas that are less noticeable to see from squad cars.

Currently, bicycle patrols are mostly conducted by officers willing to work overtime. The program’s cost is covered by a four-year, $50,000 renewable federal grant.

Once staffing is back to normal levels, more of the federal money will be used on dedicated bicycle patrols.

Foot patrols are less likely to be expanded because beats are large and those walking aren’t as mobile as those on bicycles, Jones said.

Officer Jeff Ely said the biggest advantage to bicycle patrols is freedom to probe neighborhoods without being distracted by countless calls.

“I would say the big thing with our department is we are so busy with radio calls — we’re constantly going call to call to call,” he said. “On a bike, your sole purpose is rolling through the neighborhood. You have time to talk to folks and find out what the problems are. You’re not tied to the radio as much as we are in a patrol car.”

Part of the proposed plan also involves bicycle police talking to people about ways to improve safety and reduce property crime — for example, removing shrubs where criminals can hide and installing lights or cameras, Jones said.