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A Different Spin

This article appeared in the Fall 1996 issue of Coastal Magazine

ABOVE: The spread of "A Different Spin" from the Fall 1996 issue of Coastal Magazine

A Different Spin

A new patrol vehicle recently purchased by Coastal’s Law Enforcement and Safety Division is moving the university toward a new age of “community policing.” With more and more students choosing to live on campus, law enforcement officials feel that students need more frequent and positive interaction with police officers. The theory is that students feel safer when they see officers on the beat, mingling with them on a regular basis unencumbered by a patrol car – and that potential wrongdoers will be dissuaded for the same reasons.

This new vehicle “allows access to areas of the campus which can’t be reached any other way,” said Tom Mezzapelle, the university public safety officer assigned to operate it. “If necessary, it will take you inside a building and right up a flight of stairs. One of the best things about it is that it doesn’t make any noise; it has stealth capability,” he said.

It’s a bicycle.

But not just any bicycle, explains Mezzapelle. “It’s a 24-speed GT Mountain bike with headlights and front suspension. It can go about 30 miles an hour and it costs approximately $900.”

Mezzapelle, who joined the Coastal staff in September 1995, is a true believer in the new patrol technique. A native of Clinton, Md., he became a real cycle enthusiast while working at a bike shop in the Washington, D.C., area. “While I was earning my bachelor’s degree in political science at Slippery Rock University near Pittsburgh, my bike was my main source of transportation,” he said.

After working as a Coastal security guard for approximately four months, Mezzapelle attended the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia, graduating in March 1996 from an eight-week course which qualified him to join Coastal’s force full time as a public safety officer. “In May I took a one-week bike training course from the Department of Public Safety in Aiken, one of less than a dozen schools of its kind in the country. After I graduated I was given a full-time position on bicycle patrol,” Mezzapelle said.

The idea is catching on. The Columbia and Aiken campuses of the University of South Carolina have bicycle cops, according to Mezzapelle, as do the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. In addition, the police forces of the cities of Myrtle Beach, Conway and Charleston use bike patrols.

“The primary objective of the bike patrol is that it allows for greater interaction between the officers and the campus community,” said Art Wendelken, Coastal’s chief of public safety. Bikes are a good tool for community policing, he said. “Cars have a tendency to isolate people. Bikes are more user friendly, and they allow officers to cover a much larger range than they could do on foot. Also, on a campus the size of Coastal, an officer on a bike, by taking shortcuts, can arrive at an emergency just as quickly as a car.”

Wendelken said that Coastal public safety officer Les Haga also has been trained for the bike patrol. “Our goal is to maintain one bike person per shift,” he said.

 

The cover of the Fall 2000 Coastal Magazine issue.

The cover of the Fall 1996 Coastal Magazine