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Year-round, part-time officer to replace two seasonal 'bike cops' in Willmar, Minn.

WILLMAR -- As part of the effort to create the most effective and efficient department possible, the Willmar Police Department will be replacing two part-time summer bike patrol employees with one year-round, part-time community service officer.

The two bike patrol positions are being replaced because less bicycle traffic and other factors have greatly diminished enforcement of bicycle laws, says Police Chief David Wyffels.

This reduction in bicycle violations has shifted employee needs to other areas, and enforcement of bicycle laws can be effectively performed by any community service officer or licensed officer, says Wyffels.

For more than 30 years, the Police Department hired part-time employees, predominantly college students, during the summer months for the purpose of providing bicycle safety to citizens.

The primary duty of the "bike cops'' was to ride the streets on bicycles and enforce bicycle violations. They also conducted bicycle safety classes for juvenile violators.

Over the past two years, a review of the program indicated that the nature of their job changed. In addition to bike patrol, staff assists with posting parade routes, providing traffic control and working events such as Sonshine, National Night Out, DARE and Willmar Fests, said Wyffels.

He cited three reasons why enforcement of bicycle laws has diminished: fewer people ride downtown and in residential areas; use of designated bike trails is up and use of city streets is down; and the public is better educated in safe bicycle use and adherence to traffic laws.

Up until 2004, part-time summer employees were also used to assist people crossing Business 71 and Porto Rico Street Northeast at the location known as the Robbins Island Crossing.

Wyffels requested and received permission last week from the City Council to hire a year-round, part-time community service officer with funds that would have been used to hire two seasonal bike cops.

The department already has four community service officers. They are college students enrolled in the law enforcement program at Ridgewater College. Wyffels said these officers are hired on a part-time basis to perform a wide variety of duties and work as long as they are students in the program.

"They receive a chance to work first-hand in the law enforcement environment while performing duties that we need,'' said Wyffels. "When they graduate or move on to another school, we hire somebody else to take their place.''

Wyffels said he'll be talking to the college about the community service officer opening, will conduct interviews and probably fill the position in June.

The chief said he does not think the public will notice any change in service.

"We'll actually have this person available to use throughout the whole year, the same amount of hours as what the bike patrol was putting in, but there were two of them before where now it's just one, so we can lengthen out the amount of time they're working,'' he said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150