If New Albany residents see more officers on bicycles, it is by design.

Though the New Albany Police Department has had a bike unit for some time, its visibility has not always been as high as desired because of staffing challenges, said police Chief Greg Jones.

Patrolling on a bicycle is ideal for the central part of the city, as well as in neighborhoods, Jones said.

Third-shift officers also have used the bike patrol to target garage and car break-ins because they are not as visible to thieves when riding bikes as they are in a police cruiser, he said.

In good weather, officers on bikes also are better able to interact with the community than those in cruisers, Jones said.

The availability of bike patrollers is coordinated with staff based on the availability of regular patrol officers, said Ryan Southers, a school resource officer.

The department has six officers trained in bike patrolling, Jones said, but some of them have other responsibilities that come first -- such as K-9 handler Joe Rehnert and the two school resource officers, Leland Kelly and Southers.

But the police department's newest officer, Jake Steinbrueck, now is trained on bike patrol, meaning that two of the six trained bike officers -- Steinbrueck and Lucas Burr -- will have bike patrol as part of their primary duties, said city spokesman Scott McAfee.

The sixth bike-patrol-trained officer is Kevin Deckop, McAfee said.

Patrol officers like Burr and Steinbrueck more easily can incorporate bike patrol into their duties than officers with specialty responsibilities, Jones said.

On the other hand, the two school resource officers are available to bike throughout the community during the summer in July and August, he said, though they still bring their bikes to school when they can.

Southers said he rides his bike to calls for service on the New Albany-Plain Local School District campus because it's quicker than responding on foot or by car.

"It really cuts down the response time," he said.

An officer on a bike also is more approachable to students than one in a cruiser, Southers said.

During the warmer months, when he's not on duty as a school resource officer, he said, he has enforced speed limits while on his bike in residential areas in which there have been speeding complaints. Drivers often slow down once they spot cruisers, he said.

Kelly said he most enjoys interactions with children while he patrols on bike. Last summer, for example, he would patrol in subdivisions and ride around the blocks with children.

When he is on third shift, Kelly said, he finds that bike patrol is a good way to thwart juvenile delinquency, such as when teenagers go "toilet papering" or smoke in parks.

Third shift for the police department is 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., according to McAfee.

Bike patrol requires additional training, though.

Kelly said officers have to complete special training with standards provided through the International Police Mountain Bike Association.

The training takes 40 hours over one week, and the cost of the course is $295, according to McAfee.

During the training, Steinbrueck said, he learned how to use his bike as a physical barrier between himself and danger. He also learned how to pedal up and down stairs, he said.

Southers said some of the most useful skills he learned while undergoing bike training were the ability to ride through a crowd and to dismount a bike while it's still moving to apprehend a suspect.

Sometimes the rewards of bike patrol have the most to do with human interaction.

Burr said he has spent about a year on bike patrol. He said he enjoys community interaction, and often on first shift, which is 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., he will ride to businesses around the city center to say hello.

"It's a lot more than just your hand out the (cruiser) window, waving," he said.

Officers also are able to hand out some sweet rewards to children they see following the law by wearing helmets and riding safely.

"Every time I see a child riding a bike and wearing a helmet, I'm going to have (a) coupon for Johnson's (Real) Ice Cream that I'll be looking forward to giving to them," Southers said.

Last summer, the police department started partnering with Johnson's Real Ice Cream, 160 W. Main St., to equip officers with coupons for free ice cream cones they can give to children they observe wearing helmets. Per a law that went into effect April 14, 2016, children in New Albany are required to wear helmets while riding bicycles and using other forms of recreational transportation.

The number of local officers trained in bike patrol also has the potential to increase.

As the police department hires new officers, leaders will look to see if anyone has an interest in the bike patrol, McAfee said. The department maintains a fleet of six Volcanic Bikes police mountain bicycles, he said.

The department has 19 officers -- three of whom are police-academy cadets and are slated to graduate in a couple of weeks, Jones said. The force also includes three sergeants and himself, he said.

The department is authorized to have a roster of 20 officers, five sergeants and a chief, Jones said. He said the department likely would take about six months to identify a new officer candidate and two new sergeants to meet the authorized staff level.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah