Cops on bikes at night is getting results in La Habra

By Shawn Price

They’re practically invisible.

They can roll from one end of town to the other, in an almost silent crisscross in the wee hours of the night. They travel from business parks to neighborhoods, churches to schools. Whether on the toughest streets or the quietest ones they make a lot of arrests. They are La Habra bike patrol officers.

Veteran La Habra PD patrol officers Sgt. Kyle Davis and Sgt. Eric Ocampo don’t spend every night on their specially equipped bicycles, but they spend as many nights as they can on them. So do the other 13 officers trained for the auxiliary assignment. Sgts. Davis and Ocampo are often in their regular police units, doing their primary job as patrol supervisors, but it turns out the bike patrol is one of local policing’s most effective tools and a preferred way for these two sergeants to police the city.

“The amount of stuff you can see and hear is unreal,” Sgt. Davis says. “And the bike is more mobile. We’re right on them before they can act.”

La Habra PD Sgt. Kyle Davis, left, and Sgt. Eric Ocampo talk about the advantages of working the department’s nighttime bike patrol. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Both say the ability to work at night allows them to be more effective. Having worked the graveyard shift for years, they say a typical night in the patrol car might yield a few arrests, but over the last four to six patrol shifts on bikes, they’ve netted over 25 arrests of wanted gang members, taggers and drug offenders.

“Nobody expects to see two cops on bikes at 2 in the morning,” Sgt. Ocampo says.

“They’ll say, ‘You guys are sneaky.’ They feel like we’re cheating.”

With no headlights, no engine sound and no easily identified black-and-white unit coming down the street, there’s very little to tip off gang members, car thieves, burglars or taggers.

“We could hear the clank of the can,” Sgt. Ocampo says of one tagger caught in the act.

One night they rode along the canal at the edge of the city and discovered a group of thieves with a treasure trove of stolen material.

Sgt. Davis says the moment they ride up to someone in the middle of a crime, the look on the person’s face is “just confusion, by the time they figure out what’s going on, it’s too late.”

Both consider themselves big Batman fans and they liken the idea of the stealthy, two-wheeled retro-technology to a piece of Batman tech. The result is certainly the same.

“It’s the graveyard shift,” Sgt. Davis says. “If we can put a bit of concern into them, then we’ve accomplished our job.”

Sgt. Ocampo jokes about the change they’ve made in certain neighborhoods, “I wonder how many times somebody has taken off after getting a glimpse of a bike and it was just a guy on a bike?”

The bike patrol was re-established as a pilot program in 2013 and “it kind of took off from there,” Sgt. Ocampo says.

The two of them welcomed the fresh approach and quickly saw how it could make them more effective, especially at night.

“The results we had from our first ride were exactly what I expected,” Sgt. Davis says.

Sgt. Ocampo adds, “It was another reason for us to get out of the car.”

Halloween, Christmas, high shopping periods, the Corn Festival, Citrus Fair or Foiurth of July will often find bike patrol officers at their busiest. One of their favorite things about being on the bikes is the interaction they get with the community, whether it’s kids on Halloween or homeowners leaving for work early in the morning. The bike can be a real icebreaker.

“It often elicits a 20-minute conversation with residents,” Sgt. Davis says. “It shows the public is appreciative of what we’re doing for the betterment of the community.”

The years of working together also enable Sgt. Davis and Sgt. Ocampo to be a better team when they have to be virtually silent. But it’s also a team effort that extends to all members of the patrol.

“I have absolute faith in him and the other guys,” Sgt. Ocampo says. “We’re each other’s eyes and I know his finger snaps.”

Being on the bikes has its pluses and minuses, of course — sometimes at the same moment. One recent night when the two were focused on an area where a wanted gang member, who had allegedly intimidated witnesses, was known to hang out, the two officers quietly rounded a corner to find the suspect and eight to 10 fellow gang members drinking on a porch. They calmly called for immediate support, ditched their bikes and started making arrests.

Putting experienced, well-trained officers on bikes is getting results in the city of La Habra. Putting them there out in the middle of the night might even be innovative. The officers don’t mind if everyone has caught on to the idea yet, especially the bad guys.

“The uniform is kind of goofy,” Sgt. Davis says, “but the only thing goofier is being arrested by the guys in the goofy uniforms.”

La Habra PD Sgt. Kyle Davis, left, and Sgt. Eric Ocampo, members of the department’s nighttime bike patrol. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC