June 22, 2011

Maine reserve police officers
learn the ropes

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

YORK — Brian Trefethen coasts his mountain bike to the top of a set of stairs at York Middle School, slides his backside off the seat so that his weight is over the rear tire and rumbles easily down the short flight.

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Ben Mitchell, a new reserve officer for the York Police Department, participates in a drill Tuesday at York Middle School designed to help officers ride their mountain bikes down stairs while chasing a suspect.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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York police officer John Lizanecz addresses new recruits during a class at York Middle School.

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Josh Lebel is a little more tentative, then realizes he can't go too slow or he'll lose control of the front tire, so he pedals forward to the top step and bounces his way down.

"I haven't been on a bike in a long time," Lebel says sheepishly.

Trefethen, who is 20, will be a reserve police officer in Ogunquit this summer. Lebel, also in his 20s, will work as a reserve officer in Kennebunkport, for what he hopes will be the start of a law enforcement career.

Close to 20 men and one woman learned the finer points of policing from the saddle of a bicycle last week in the advanced course offered by the York Police Department to new reserve officers in southern Maine.

Reserve officers must complete a program of 100 hours of classroom training on the law and how to enforce it before they have the authority to make arrests and carry service weapons.

Those who got bicycle training last week also got hands-on instruction in day-to-day law enforcement, such as wielding a collapsible baton, using pepper spray and handcuffing a suspect.

Soon, such training will be the norm for all new reserves in Maine. Starting next month, reserve officers will have to complete a 40-hour online course, meet a physical fitness requirement, then take 80 hours of practical instruction, before serving under a field training officer for another 80 hours.

Full-time officers must complete an 18-week course at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

The pre-service program for reserve officers entitles them to work as many as 1,040 hours per year. Many of the state's beach communities use reserve officers at times when summer tourists expand their populations. Small police departments and sheriff's offices use reserve officers to fill out their ranks and cover for full-time officers and deputies who are on vacation.

The advanced course offered by York police gives the reserve recruits -- most of them in their early 20s, still in college or just graduated -- a chance to apply what they have learned in the classroom, including how to use a mountain bike as a police vehicle.

"They have to learn the proper way to set down the bike (when chasing a suspect) so it doesn't hit you or careen off and hit a kid," said lead instructor John Lizanecz, a York police officer.

They learn to use the bicycle to ward off an unruly suspect, and to put it on the ground so that it helps to hem in a suspect.

On a recent afternoon, Lizanecz devised scenarios for the recruits to test their technique.

In one case, two recruits ride up to a pair of people, one of whom is wanted on a warrant. When the other person takes off running, one of the recruits drops the bike and gives chase all around the elementary school ballfield.

Later, the instructors offer a critique of the response, pointing out that the suspect who ran hadn't actually done anything wrong, and that the recruit who chased her left his partner without backup. He also could have gotten his bike stolen, which is a hard thing to live down.

"This is where you want to learn, not out there," Lizanecz said afterward.

Even though they're young and new to the field, the reserve officers have full police powers and will see their share of action, he said.

"They're going to be the first ones on the scene, before a cruiser," when traffic and people crowd the streets of a seaside resort, he said.

The reserves say the training on how to jump curbs and leap off a bike into a dead run makes them feel like the beat is getting closer.

"This is probably the most necessary of the things we're going to be doing," said Jaimes Plamondon of Biddeford, who will spend hours a day riding a bike as part of his patrols in Kennebunk.

Lebel said he prefers his bikes to have motors, but getting reacquainted with human-powered two-wheelers hasn't been bad.

"We just got (pepper) sprayed last night. This is a lot more enjoyable," he said.


Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: dhench@pressherald.com


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Additional Photos

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Brian Trefethen, an Ogunquit Police Department reserve officer, dodges the Kennebunk Police Department’s Andrew Bridges, on the bike, during a drill Tuesday at York Middle School.


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