Rialto police reintroduce bicycle patrols, anti-gang unit, mobile command
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11:14 AM PDT on Sunday, April 27, 2008
RIALTO - The two Rialto police officers outside Wal-Mart didn't turn heads.
It was a quiet Sunday morning, and officers Shaun Mooney and Mike Morales were ticketing a car illegally parked in a handicapped space.
There wasn't a patrol car in sight -- and that was exactly the point.
"People aren't expecting police on bikes," Morales said.
He and his partner are on the department's bicycle patrol, one of several details recently revived by Chief Mark Kling after disappearing under tumultuous past administrations.
Since taking the job in late 2006, shortly after city leaders ditched a plan to disband the department and have county sheriff's deputies take over, Kling has led a steady rebuilding effort.
An anti-gang detail, the return of bike officers and an expanded traffic division are among the changes.
"We're starting to do things that we should have been doing all along," Kling said. "We're examining every single aspect of the department and trying to make it better."
People already have noticed. When Wal-Mart's private security guard, Elizabeth Suer, saw the officers ride through the crowded parking lot, she enthusiastically flagged them down.
"It's about time," she said later of the return of bicycle officers. "We could use them here."
Mooney and Morales are members of a team of five officers who ride mountain bikes, in pairs, at least twice a month through Rialto's busiest commercials centers and most troubled apartment complexes.
The philosophy is that an officer on two wheels can go places -- both noticed and unnoticed -- that an officer in a patrol car can't.
"We interact a lot more," Mooney said. "It's all proactive, and when we're in our cars we can't say that."
On the recent Sunday, the two officers pedaled through Rialto's downtown, then south to the stretch of motels, gas stations and shopping plazas along Interstate 10.
They stopped a homeless woman cutting copper wire behind a Hometown Buffet; a man jaywalking across busy Riverside Avenue; and a teen using a knife to slice open a pack of peanuts near a convenience store.
The longhaired, backpack-toting teen, who said he was passing through from Venice Beach to Arizona, bristled when the officers attempted to question him.
"You should thank us because you could easily get robbed standing here," Mooney told him. "We get a lot of drug dealing in this area."
A supervisor said that kind of interaction is the point of the patrols, which are slated to expand to a full-time detail in coming months.
"It gives us a leg up," said Sgt. Vince Licata, a member of the department's original bicycle patrol in the early 1990s. "There's an element of surprise to it. Most of the criminals don't expect this."
To revive the bicycle team, Rialto police reached out to the community. Local homebuilders donated thousands of dollars to purchase the bikes, special uniforms and wireless communication tools used by the officers.
The patrols were eliminated during former Chief Michael Meyers' tenure, which ended with a no-confidence vote by officers and the City Council's vote to disband the department.
By the time the council backed off that decision and an interim chief had stabilized the department, Kling inherited a force that was a shell of its former self. Dozens of officers had quit. He slowly began recruiting and budgeting improvements.
In late 2006, Kling formed the Street Crime Attack Team, made up of four gang investigators and a sergeant. He also expanded the narcotics and detective bureaus.
Today, Kling proudly points out a new $350,000 computer system in the department and a $205,000 mobile command center that can serve as a main dispatch center should power to the main station fail. The former crisis-negotiation van was a converted Frito-Lay box truck.
There still are budget issues and several open positions yet to be filled, but Kling said that the mood in the department has turned a corner.
"I think the employees here went through tremendous turmoil they'll never forget," he said. "Now, all these good ideas, they're coming from within the department."
Reach Paul LaRocco at 909-806-3064 or plarocco@PE.com
BS Ranch Perspective:
The Rialto Police Department was the first Agency in the Inland Empire to start a Bicycle Patrol, Myself, Officer Joe Castillo (God rest his soul), then Officer Tony Farrar (now he is Capt. Tony Farrar), Officer Todd Wright, Officer Tim Lane (now Sergent Tim Lane), I believe that even Matt Huddleston (God Rest his soul) had a turn on the bikes for a short time during the start of the patrol!
At that time there was a dream of having a full time Bicycle patrol, but Capt. Becknell could not perswaide the chief to the idea of a full time Bicycle Patrol Division at that time, it was then that I switched to the Motorcycle Patrol of the Traffic Division especially since I could and was able to ride the Police Motor's before going to Motor School, with the training of the Motor Officer, which helped me during my time at Motorcycle School.