Officer Christopher Hawk of the UI Division of Public Safety is certified by the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA) as an instructor of police patrol tactics on bicycles.
Hawk has conducted bicycle training classes for officers from other Central Illinois police agencies and at IPMBA's annual conference. Off the job, Hawk bicycles country roads and participates in activities with his 9-year-old son’s Cub Scout troop.
What was your background before coming to the UI and why did you decide to go into police work?
I've always been the corny want-to-help-people kind of person. I was a Boy Scout. I was an emergency medical technician on the student-run ambulance service at Kent State University. In 1989, I got hired at Parkland College as an EMT and security officer. In 1996, I joined the UI department as a police officer. In August 1996, I started working on the bike unit.
How does policing on a bike differ from policing in a patrol car?
The bike is a great tool for getting up close to people in Campustown and places where you can’t go in the car. It really can be a much more friendly experience for the public. When you ride at night, you hear sounds from four or five blocks away that you wouldn't hear during the day. The stealth advantage is great. I have literally ridden five feet behind a group of people who were either drinking or walking along smashing mirrors on cars, and they had no clue I was back there. Right now we have 16 officers certified to ride the bikes, or about half of our patrol staff.
How do you do traffic stops on a bike?
In Campustown you can't get away from a bike because of the stop-and-go traffic. Most of the time I just roll up next to the driver's side and knock on the window, identify myself and point to the curb. The look from the driver is usually (one of surprise). Once I stopped a guy while he was lighting his marijuana pipe. When I knocked on his window, he looked at me then tried not to exhale for about 15 seconds.
How do you get certified by the International Police Mountain Bike Association and how many levels of certification are there?
The basic certification level is as a police cyclist. It is a 32- or 40-hour course, about half classroom time, covering things like how to ride in traffic, how to be visible when riding at night, and tactical skills like how to get up and down from obstacles, going up and over curbs and very intricate cone-maneuvering courses. The next levels are the advanced police cyclist, the police cyclist instructor and the instructor-trainer. I am an instructor. In a year or two, I would like to become an instructor-trainer.
What types of bikes do you use?
We ride Trek, Cannondale and Raleigh mountain bikes. The Moms and Dads Day Association donated six bicycles to us about two years ago. We’ve gotten some bikes through grants. We also had one Mercedes-Benz bike given to us.
Have you ever had an accident on your bike?
I've had some doozies. I've never been seriously injured. I have "end-o’ed," meaning the bike stops and you go end over end, a couple of times. I have had the bike slide out from under me while I was cornering and I hit some gravel. I have also been "Schwinned" (hit by a bicycle).
What do you enjoy about being a police officer?
I like to tell people about last January when I stopped a car. The drug dog hit on it, and we pulled out 58 grams of marijuana all packaged for resale and 18 little rocks of lookalike crack cocaine. It made me feel really good to get those drugs and those guys off the street. Later in the same evening I was walking through one of the residence halls and some guys were playing euchre. So I stopped to talk to them and sat in on one guy's hand while he went to the bathroom. I like that variety of being able to get out and meet people who are good when you’re not in an enforcement situation. Helping people out, that’s what I like most about this.
Aside from patrolling, what other duties do you have?
I'm a rape aggression defense instructor. I also do the freshman orientation during the spring semesters, and I always stress the importance of being honest. It may not get you out of trouble, but it will certainly be a smoother ride if I can write in my report that you admitted that there was a problem and were willing to take responsibility for your actions. Being honest always helps.