APB: Pedal Cop Collaboration

How Burlington, Vermont’s, chief of police is using boutique bikes to create community bonds.

By Berne Broudy October 24, 2016

Brandon Del Pozo, Burlington, Vermont’s, chief of police, took delivery of a fleet of six police bikes last month. That’s not news—other police departments have bike patrols. But BPD’s new wheels are designed and manufactured by the city’s own boutique bike manufacturer, Budnitz Bikes.

Del Pozo has had his eye on potential local partnerships since he took the job last fall, and this is the first collaboration to come to fruition. “I’d heard about Budnitz bikes and that they are built by a genius in Burlington,” said Del Pozo. “I investigated and saw how beautiful and well made they are, and I knew our cops had to have them.” Del Pozo sent founder Paul Budnitz a handwritten note, and they met shortly after. “He was so psyched to help, as was our foundation, and the deal came together in no time,” said Del Pozo.” The Queen City Police Foundation—the Burlington force’s privately funded charity paid for the bikes.

Budnitz designed a steel hard-tail frame with an 11-speed Gates Carbon Belt drivetrain. The police bikes have custom-built 27.5-inch wheels designed to stay true under the heavy gear loads cops carry, and they are all outfitted with a strong rear rack, reflective sidewalls and head badges. Budnitz manufactures its frames in Taiwan, but all bikes are assembled from the frame up at Budnitz’s Burlington studio.

“We live in such an outdoor city,” says Burlington’s top cop, who is an avid recreational cyclist, bike commuter and aspiring Ironman triathlete. “But my officers—many of whom can’t afford to live in town—don’t necessarily connect with the cycling community, which some of them, frankly, perceive as elitist. Putting my officers on locally made bikes, instead of a Trek or Cannondale, is my way of creating commonality and connecting the department with Burlington’s outdoor community.”

In light of recent community-versus-cop discourse around the country, it’s important for both parties to find common ground. In Burlington, Vermont, the community’s identity is tied up in the outdoors. And the gesture—however small in the grand scheme of law enforcement—of putting cops on locally produced bicycles not only influences cops to be more bike-minded and bike-friendly, but also makes them more accessible and approachable and sends a discourse-opening message that says, “we’re just like you,” and “what matters to the community matters to us.”

It also addresses tensions between non-cyclists and riders. “This is a city that is striving to become more bike friendly,” said Del Pozo. “And there is skepticism from some residents about how much dedicated space bikes deserve. I am not agnostic on this,” he admits. “In my experience as a police officer, a lot of conflicts [arise because] cities aren’t engineered for a variety of user groups to coexist. By putting cops on bikes, I am trying to set a good example; I am trying to make a point that we’ll be a better city once we designs streets to accommodate bikers safely and in harmony with vehicles and walkers.”

Del Pozo, who recently received the 2016 Gary Hayes Memorial Award for innovation and leadership, is also working to remove barriers between cops and community, to build bonds that circumvent the violence being reported around the U.S. “In policing, there is always tension between mobility and protection,” says Del Pozo. “In a car, you’re isolated from citizens. Foot patrol is great for connecting, but it limits an officer’s sphere of influence. Bikes hit the sweet spot. You can cover terrain, respond to 911, but you can spend the rest of your time interfacing with public.”

“It is our sole mission here at Budnitz Bicycles to perfect the city bicycle experience,” said Jeremy Kent, CEO of Budnitz Bicycles. “There is something incredibly special about designing and building a custom fleet for our own Queen City. Budnitz is extremely proud of our Vermont home, the men and women of the Burlington police and the opportunity to contribute to this very cool partnership.”

And so far it’s been extremely well received by Del Pozo’s officers. “In some cases we’re getting places faster than we could in a car, according to dispatch,” said Corporal Bailey Emilio, who does school patrol by bike, and in the summer rides in uniform to places where kids on bikes congregate.

Corporal Dave Clements, who patrols by bike full time but doesn’t consider himself a cyclist, says, “It’s the best assignment you can get.” Del Pozo chimes in: “Maybe that’s why everyone is saying [Clements is] now in such a good mood all the time. Cops out on bike are not only fast and silent but easier to approach and they stay fitter. Citizens love to see them. They’re the best mix of mobility and public accessibility, which translates to perfect community policing.”

Ultimately, Del Pozo sees this as a small step in a much bigger mission. “Every chance I get, I try to figure out how Burlington and its police can be brought closer. In one case it was by having one of best [local] design companies redesign our patch. Here it was with that idea that Burlington cops could patrol the city on bikes designed and built here.”