TAMPA — The 200 law enforcement officers on bicycles will be the city's ambassadors at the Republican National Convention.
Need an ATM? Directions? They want to help.
But when violence or an emergency arises, they'll likely be the first to the scene. Bicycles are more nimble than vehicles and faster than officers on foot.
These officers can make arrests and provide first aid. They'll be armed.
"They really have a dual role," said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
On Wednesday, 26 of these officers trained for the urban terrain. They rode up stairs behind the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. They jumped off moving bicycles. They practiced using the siren.
Next month, the Tampa Police Department will ask the city to spend $319,400 on 200 new Kona bicycles, provided by Safariland, for the convention. That's about $1,600 for each bike.
They're built especially for police use. These bikes are sturdy, have ergonomic handles, lights, sirens, special shocks, a battery pack, larger tires and a pack on the back, which will hold paperwork and a first aid kit.
Because officers on bikes can often get to scenes faster than those in vehicles, they may serve as first responders. They won't be a replacement for paramedics, said Hillsborough sheriff's Capt. Kyle Cockream, but with the first aid kits, they'll be able to help until emergency personnel arrive.
The ergonomic features are important, police say, because these officers will patrol on bikes for 12-hour shifts.
Steve Toll, a former Tampa police officer, is donating 200 special bicycle seats to the department. Motivated after uncomfortable bike rides, he designed them in 1997 and eventually launched a company called Ideal Saddle Modification. He distributes worldwide from his Lutz warehouse.
Fifteen agencies are providing officers for the bike patrol. There will be police from Tampa, St. Petersburg, Temple Terrace, Plant City and Gulfport and deputies from Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.
These officers will all be able to take their new bicycles back to their agencies when the convention is done.
St. Petersburg police Lt. Scott MacDonald said that will be a huge asset to the city, which uses bicycles in community patrols.
And perhaps more important, they'll have officers trained and certified to work on bicycles, said Tampa police Capt. Brian Dugan. Each of the 200 officers is going through a five-day course.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.