DETROIT—If you happen to see groups of bright, safety-vest-wearing cyclists riding about Midtown, they’re not just out there for their health.
They are members and volunteers of the AmeriCorps Urban Safety Project at Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies. The project aims to identify crime hot-spots throughout Midtown and target those areas with volunteer and police surveillance.
In partnership with Wayne State University Police, AMUS staff and volunteers use a crime-mapping software program called CompStat to focus surveillance efforts to ultimately improve public safety.
Though the program has been in existence for three years and crime in the Midtown area had decreased significantly, by early spring it seemed to be hitting a plateau. This was shortly after Andre Masnari joined the project in February.
The Transition to Two Wheels
As the bike advocate and avid cyclist among the AMUS staff, Masnari saw an opportunity to cover more ground by bike than by foot, and a greater ability to see things you wouldn’t otherwise see driving in a car.
“In a car you’re isolated—you can’t as easily stop and talk or engage with residents,” he says.
Two or three times a week, teams of two or more bike patrollers equip themselves with reflective safety vests, walky-talkies, bike lights and helmets, and start out on a pre-determined route. Their walky-talkies connect them directly to WSU Police, and for 2-3 hours, they patrol one of three Midtown neighborhoods: Boston-Edison, Woodbridge or West Canfield.
Masnari told Mode Shift that bike patrol's job is to observe and communicate; he made it clear they are not out there to attack anyone committing a crime or directly question anyone that looks suspicious.
“It’s not that WSU is an unsafe area; compared to ten years ago, it’s leaps and bounds better,” says Masnari. He believes this is largely due to an increase in commitment to public safety on behalf of WSU Police. “We communicate anything suspicious to the WSU Police using the radios. They have been very supportive—their response time is instantaneous.”
The types of crimes that are most often reported to WSU Police in the area include "apple-picking" (i.e. theft of items like laptops, purses, or smartphones) and break-ins.
As a preventative measure, Americorps staff regularly place flyers on car windshields, bikes and in coffee shops around town with suggestions for how to deter theft. For example, they recommend keeping valuables out of sight, parking in well-lit areas, walking in groups when possible, purchasing a steering wheel club and locking bikes with U-locks. WSU Police offer clubs for 50 percent off and U-locks for bikes for $10.
Since crime statistics vary (e.g., location and peak times) the bike patrol shifts vary from week to week. Sometimes they include weekends, sometimes they don’t; the point is to be unpredictable so that people contemplating criminal acts don’t know when they’ll see a team of patrollers turning the corner.
So, is it Working?
Whether or not the bike patrol is actually affecting the occurrence of crime is difficult to gauge, Masnari told Mode Shift. By simply being out on the street and having a presence, people may be less likely to commit a crime. As the urban theorist Jane Jacobs explained, having more eyes on the street is both a strategy and an outcome in itself.
The group has secured a $1.6 million grant over three years to expand across five neighborhoods throughout the city: Cody, Southwest, Morningside/East English Village, Osborn, and Bates/Bagley/Bethune. The grant is part of the AmeriCorps Governor & Mayor Initiative Urban Safety Corps.
The greatest need at this point is volunteers, Mansari told Mode Shift. With more volunteers, AMUS hopes to extend their routes to include the Henry Ford Health System and Detroit Medical Center neighborhoods.
If you’re interested in joining the bike patrol and reducing crime in your neighborhood, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.