Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Thin Blue Bicycle Line - Are You Privileged?

Before we get into the meat of today’s post, let’s start with a salad.  A shit salad.

Yesterday, I sent this picture to a good old friend. 

In response, he wrote:

If someone were to take the worst parts of the Grinch, Guy Fieri, and the lead singer of Nickleback and put them in the body of a misshapen Mr. Potato Head, I would rather spend the rest of my life with that unholy combination than talk to Dan for five minutes.

And thus my eulogy was written.

Transitioning from people who are worse than Guy Fieri to those who are not, I have been mulling over a piece of dialog from the TV series Fargo.  In it, the writers explore the tension between the freewheeling youth of the late 70’s and early 80’s and the return to conservatism that followed.  One of the lead characters (a cop) has just listened to an arrestee explain why it wasn’t her fault that she killed several people, because her own life path was beyond her control. 

In response, the cop told about his experiences in the Vietnam War and “man’s” task of providing for his family and community.  “We call it a burden,” he said, “but it’s really our privilege.” 
The fictional cop in question
Setting aside the sexism and paternalism in this statement, I love the concept.  Caring for others is privilege indeed, whether that care comes in the form of protection, service, or support.

What I mean by “privilege” is that one must come from a position of strength to help others.  That is to say, you have to have your shit together.  Privilege means that you are able, through your own hard work or good fortune, to serve others.  And serving others is the highest use of one’s limited time on this planet.      

This is not to say that providing can never be a burden.  Indeed, it can, and often is.  But our privilege is to shoulder that burden.  To be able to carry the weight without collapsing. 

Some folks seem particularly well suited to serve others.  One such person is my friend Steve Mason. 

Steve is on my race team, Breakaway Quickdirt.  Steve is also a police officer.  He’s one of those guys who would serve regardless of job though.  It’s just his personality. 

At one race this year, my 14-year old son was racing too.  Steve and I had already finished and were hanging out at the team tent, eating and talking when a woman rider rode up.  She had quit the race after seeing Calvin crash and had left the course to come and find me.  Calvin had wrecked pretty badly, and she was worried that he would be hurt.

Steve’s reaction was textbook for what you’d like to see in an emergency responder.  Steve set down his food and calmly suggested that I drive in one direction of the course to look for Calvin, and he would drive the other.  He took my cellphone number and left. 

After a couple minutes of driving, I found Calvin.  He was being walked out of the woods by another teammate of mine, Chadd Hartman, who had also quit the race to help.  Chadd saw the wreck too and took responsibility to get Calvin off the trail.  (Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Chadd has helped me on the trail.  He’s a great dude too).  Steve called to check in and I told him that we found Calvin and were on our way to the hospital.  He was glad to hear it.  (Calvin was shaken and scraped up, but checked out okay with no major injuries).
Steve’s reaction reflects that for him, helping others is his privilege.  He does it for a living. 

Steve first became interested in police work in high school.  He had moved with his single mom to Pataskala.  Police Chief Wilson came to Steve’s high school and spoke about police work.  Steve stopped and talked to him and Chief Wilson took him under his wing.  He let Steve do ride-alongs, and inspired Steve to consider a career in law enforcement. 

From there, Steve went on to college and the Columbus Police Academy.  He’s worked various precincts in Columbus including Old Town East, Linden, and Campus.  He has observed the great turnaround of Old Town East.  In Linden, he particularly liked working with the older residents, who have held on to their homes as this neighborhood transitioned from a working class family neighborhood to a little rougher and higher crime.  Many of the older residents can’t afford to move, and so keep their homes proudly in good shape, sometimes as islands of calm on their streets.  These older folks were the motivation for Steve when he patrolled their neighborhood.

Steve is currently a Patrol Sergeant serving the 5th and 2nd Precincts, supervising officers and coordinating high-risk runs. 

Steve got his start with biking when he weighed too much and was looking for some fitness.  So, he sold his boat (always the right choice) and bought a mountain bike at Breakaway Cycles.  He lives only 10 minutes from Alum Creek Phase 2, and considers it his “home trail.”  His favorite trails also include Mohican and Scioto Trails.

This year, he started racing mountain bikes, and got some great results, taking podium spots in three of his four races.  Next year, he hopes to win the Novice Clydesdale category. 

At the end of this summer, Steve signed up for certification for bicycle patrolling.  There are currently two main organizations for police cycling certifications – IPMBA and LEBA.  IPMBA will be hosting their annual summit in Delaware Ohio in 2017.  Should be a great event, and they have already reached out to COMBO to get involved.

Columbus uses LEBA, which teaches skills like cycling in traffic, how to approach a suspect on bike, community policing, bike maintenance, and slow speed cycling skills.  Certification requires 40 hours of training. 
Bike officer helps fix a flat
Columbus has the largest full-time bike patrol in the country.  How cool is that?  Each precinct has two bike officers, and there are “walkie crews” in Campus and Downtown.  Policing on bikes has paid dividends.  The Campus crew recently caught a sexual assault in process and arrested the rapist. 

Photo from the Lantern
But more than just crime prevention, police on bikes are more a part of the community.  According to Steve, people are more comfortable talking to police on bike than in a cruiser.  People approach him all the time to just talk, as questions, or even request a bike ride.  (You don’t want one, by the way.  It ends in jail.)  Steve has mostly worked as a “flex” bike patroller, during OSU football games.  He says that before and during the game, his job is slow.  The goal is mostly to be proactive and to be seen.  Occasionally, they break up fights near the stadium.  After the game, the job gets more interesting.  The roads are gridlocked with 2-hours’ worth of traffic as people leave the stadium.  Bikes are the quickest way police can get around and respond to a situation.  They may respond to thefts, fights, disturbances – anything.  So, they station two bike police every couple blocks.

An OSU Yule Log
And Steve has seen some crazy things on bike patrol.  Probably the most astonishing was when Steve saw a cyclist on a fixed-gear bike, wearing dark clothing, and no lights, riding at night WHILE WATCHING NETFLIX.  Steve suggested to the cyclist that perhaps the show could wait until he got home.

Image from Yehuda Moon
I’m glad to know Steve.  He’s the kind of guy we want on our police force.  And he views service as a privilege.  He’s got his shit together.
Be brave, and be privileged.    




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