By Claire Walla
They travel by horse, helicopter, motorcycle or car — even roller blades and Segways (my personal favorite) are fair game. Police officers have many ways of patrolling the streets. But here in Sag Harbor, when village police aren’t confined to a car, they prefer bikes.
With the addition of Officer Dave Driscoll who joined the village police squad last summer, Sag Harbor Village now has four certified bike cops. The 24-speed two-wheelers they ride give policemen a relatively hassle-free way to travel through the village.
I met Officer Driscoll at the station at 6:30 p.m. one recent Saturday night. Truth be told, half of me was eager to witness in person what I usually see written-out each week when I compile the police blotter. But, the other half was apprehensive of what an arrest would be like for someone on a bike. If you’ve ever read blotter, you know Sag Harbor is not necessarily immune to uncooperative arrestees. Maintaining law and order with a high-speed, patrol car on your side is one thing; getting into harm’s way with little more than a bicycle to get you out — that’s a little different.
Fortunately, Driscoll has top-of-the-line equipment. His mountain bike was donated by a shop in East Hampton, which outfitted the vehicle with bright LCD lights in front, a flashing red light in back, and the ability to flip colored panels to achieve that well-known red-and-blue blinking light effect. This custom bike even came equipped with its own siren, a deafening wail that — when standing only inches away — seemed even louder than the high-pitched whine standard for your average police vehicle.
Driscoll explained that each certified bike cop has to complete a weeklong training course. His took place at Suffolk Police Academy in Westhampton. There, police men and women take part in a real life bike boot camp: learning how to mount and dismount their bike efficiently, how to descend and even climb up a flight of stairs, how to “track stand” (or, maintain a standing position with both feet on the pedals for an extended period of time, like while stopped at a red light).
“We had a range day where we did some pursuit riding and learned how to dismount off the bike and shoot at targets,” Driscoll said. “On the last day we did a 30- to 40-mile night ride.”
While a little more assured of what I was getting into, I immediately came to grasp the benefits of traveling light as soon as we set out. After leaving the station and heading north on Route 114, we swiftly slid down the right-hand shoulder, past a line of cars all waiting to turn left onto Bay Street. Mimicking their route, we hung a left and flew past all the vehicles essentially parked at this Bay Street bottleneck I’ve grown so accustomed to, myself, as a driver.
While sailing along, I noticed Driscoll was being carefully observant. We were inches away from each vehicle, so he could actually peer in through the passenger side window and check to make sure seat-belt laws weren’t being violated and even see whether passenger seats were free of, well, incriminating materials.
“The best thing about being on a bike is that no one knows you’re coming,” he said.
I figured this was a less probable, now that Driscoll was traveling with a reporter in pigtails and a cameraman weighted down by several satchels of gear while pedaling furiously on a bright-yellow bike two sizes too small — but I can see how this would be the case ordinarily. We paused by Bay Street Theatre to examine a run-down hatchback that appeared to have one too many bodies crammed into the backseat. But, as it turned out, it was just cramped (such is the nature of a hatch-back.)
We continued our loop through the village by heading toward the back parking lots to the west of Main Street, and I asked Driscoll about the dangers of navigating high-traffic roads.
“There are a lot of crazy drivers everywhere, so you have to be aware of your surroundings — you almost have to have eyes in the back of your head,” he said, explaining that his uniform is equipped with reflectors. “There aren’t a lot of shoulders, there aren’t a lot of streetlights here, and in the summer it seems everyone’s always in a rush to go somewhere.”
And then — as if on cue — Driscoll pardoned himself and sped off for the parking lot.
“It’s not our fault, it’s his!” the passenger of the vehicle shrieked as Driscoll rolled to the parked car trying to back out of a spot in the midst two others attempting to take it.
We had stumbled upon our first incident of the evening: a parking feud. An S.U.V. and a luxury sedan were facing one other in what seemed like a sudden death scenario, competing for a soon-to-be-vacated space. Driscoll cleared the way for the car to leave and quickly extricated himself from the conflict. The S.U.V. bitterly drove off. Totally impartial, Driscoll picked the conversation where we left off. I got the sense he does this a lot.
Next, we meandered over to the corner of Main and Spring Streets, where we perched ourselves next to the curb to watch the flow of traffic. While riding around with a cop, it had become clear to me that the notion of being “on duty” brings with it a certain view of the world. You’re not riding defensively — even though you are certainly hoping to avert erratic drivers — you’re proactively looking for violations and errors.
Once again, mid-sentence, Driscoll spotted something my eyes have not been trained to see — and he was off.
A man in a Jeep who turned left onto Spring was not wearing a seatbelt. After signaling for him to pull over, Driscoll questioned the man and learned that the driver had just come back from a day at the beach and was less than two minutes from home. Noticing that the man had no prior record and that he was indeed in the right vicinity, Driscoll let him off with a warning.
This was not the case for a driver on Long Wharf whom Driscoll approached for parking in an undesignated parking space. After learning she was also driving without a license, Driscoll issued her several violations before telling her to call someone to pick her up and move the car.
In the course of the evening, we made several loops around Main Street and stopped by Haven’s Beach. Twice. (As far as we could tell, it was empty.) The fastest we sped was north on Route 114 in pursuit of a car that had run a stop sign. The driver ended up getting away. And the most deftly maneuvered traffic stop came later in the evening when Driscoll caught up with a pick-up truck with a broken taillight blasting loud music which attempted to turn left onto Main Street. For a moment it seemed as if the truck would try to out-run the bike cop, but the young driver complied and pulled over on the side of Long Island Avenue. He got off with a warning.
Before we knew it, it was 11 p.m. and Driscoll’s shift was over. There had only been one DWI arrest (by another officer), which I assumed to be low-key for a Sag Harbor summer night, and Main Street establishments were just beginning to empty.
I asked Officer Driscoll if he was perhaps a bit disappointed by the fact that the evening was so slow. He had made no arrests. But, he responded the way you’d expect any seasoned cop to answer.
“If nothing happens,” he began, “then it’s a good night.”