Placer Sheriff’s Patrol Sgt. John Giovannini can police Tahoe City from the comfort of his patrol car, or he can get out in the Sierra sun and cruise through traffic and crowds on a full-suspension Kona mountain bike.
Giovannini, manager of the Placer sheriff’s Tahoe bike patrol team, and about 14 of his fellow officers are certified to patrol North Lake Tahoe not only by car and on foot, but via bicycle, too.
“This environment is perfect with those crowds for bicycles … they’re maneuverable, they’re fast, they’re silent for sneaking up on violators and they’re very effective,” Giovannini said. “And they’re good PR, too. Everyone likes seeing bike patrol officers.”
During the summer, Placer sheriff’s deputies cover special events like fairs, festivals and concerts by bicycle, and the officers who are certified can supplement their patrol with bikes at anytime.
“We can cover a large area and have a good feel for what’s going on ” much more than on foot or in a patrol car,” Giovannini said.
California Highway Patrol officers also navigate the highways and byways of North Lake Tahoe by bicycle during the summer months, which began with Fourth of July events in the early 1990s. Officers say that bike patrol is not only more efficient in crowds and traffic but great for community relations, too.
During the summer, anywhere from one to four officers regularly patrol from Kings Beach to Squaw Valley daily, with extra support during big holiday weekends, said California Highway Patrol officer Joe Edwards.
“It really makes it fun because we’re outside of the car ” basically we’re on our vehicle rather than inside it,” Edwards said. “We ride up and spend all day visiting with people. We get to know the people who live and work and visit in Tahoe.”
CHP bike patrol officers must attend a rigorous week-long training program before becoming certified, Edwards said, where nearly 30 percent of the participants fail their first time.
About six of 24 highway patrol officers based in Truckee-Tahoe are certified for bike patrol, he said.
Lake Tahoe is one of just four places the California Highway Patrol use bikes, the others include Marin County and the Golden Gate Bridge, Santa Barbara and its university area, and the state Capital.
Edwards said that patrolling by bike can be more exciting than by car at times.
He recalled patrolling the Kings Beach fireworks last July when an intoxicated driver gassed his accelerator trying to hit Edwards and his partner with his car.
Because the traffic was so dense, Edwards caught up to the drunken driver and arrested him in front of an awed crowd.
“It was really cool because everyone’s clapping and they got a good show. It was scary at first,” Edwards said.
Residents and visitors generally abide by laws when a police car is visible, Giovannini agreed, but because the bicycles are more discreet, offenders are often caught off guard.
“We’re so mobile and we can get in areas cars can’t patrol,” Giovannini said. “We’ll come across a very intoxicated person on the river starting fights, violating county codes like lighting fireworks, urinating in public, playing loud music ” basically people who are disturbing peaceful Lake Tahoe.”
Nevada County sheriff’s department does not have any officers on bicycle patrol and Truckee Police Department saves the three certified officers for special events like Fourth of July celebrations or the Tour de Nez cycling race.
“It’s faster than walking and more fluid and maneuverable than using a vehicle,” said Truckee Police Lt. Harwood Mitchell. “It’s really kind of unique that we have them here … it’s reassuring, too.”
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