columnBy Mwangi G
Back in the day police used to chase suspected robbers down the streets, through narrow alleys etc and march them off to court to be tried for their crimes.
I guess as the men and women in blue lost their fitness it became easier to just shoot the suspects and be done with it.
Every now and then there is a story in the newspapers from somewhere in the world about a campaign to get the police service to lose weight and get fit for the tough job of catching criminals.
Just recently, a couple of weeks ago as you read this, the main story in my local newspaper, The Atlantic Sun, was about and organisation called the Pedal Power Association donating bicycles and helmets to the police in the Camps Bay neighbourhood to assist with mobile patrols in the area.
The story was illustrated with the photograph of what some might call a "pleasantly plump" policewoman trying to find her balance on one of the bicycles assisted by a fellow officer.
The bicycle riding policewoman was quoted as saying she hoped that the bike would help her lose weight and keep fit. The cops on bikes will be confined to the Camps Bay, which could be described as quite a hilly suburb, and they will be ridden by both police on patrol and police detectives.
According to the chief of the Camps Bay Community Police Forum, Peter Mead, the pedal power project covers six police stations in the suburb and the move to put cops on bikes is part of a "back to basics"approach.
Mead was right in that way back when police forces began the cops were either on foot or mounted on bicycles or horses. Mead suggested that police vans (the most common police transport I have seen here in South Africa is a covered pick-up truck, they call them vans) "sometimes create a barrier between the public and officers because people feel intimidated by the vehicles whereas police on bicycles are more approachable."
He also said he thought the cops patrolling on bikes would be "an obvious deterrent" to petty criminals such as bag snatchers especially with the approaching festive season when places like Camps Bay experience an influx of tourists.
Mead suggested that the bicycles would help the police cover great distances and that he hoped the initiative would be rolled out elsewhere.
I don't know so much about cops on bikes being that much of a deterrent to hardened criminals, but I suppose that policemen who patrol on foot might actually prefer the bicycles, once they get their heads around the concept.
Over a century ago when bicycles were the transport mode of choice for the police, the world moved at a much slower pace than it does today when motorists want to zoom along faster than any speed-limit.
However, I couldn't help thinking that the bad guys on the streets will just laugh, hop into a stolen car and speed away from the puffing, sweating cops on their bikes. But may be that's the cynical journalist in me.
The cops on bikes movement seems to be growing across the world. Campaigners for the movement suggest that "an officer in a patrol car is highly visible, he can't easily scout back alleyways, parking lots, parks, crowds, and other high-crime areas, and he has difficulty pursuing criminals who don't use a motor vehicle to escape."
They also argue that unencumbered mobility is just one of the many advantages of police on bikes and that this mobility, combined with quietness and small size allows for surprise apprehension of unwary criminals. Apparently in some parts of the world, bikes are the bane of drug dealers.
However, the argument that really swung me was that cops on bikes receive some serious on-the-job exercise turning them into lean mean crime busting machines.
Also there is the monetary value for the hardworking taxpayer, a bicycle is significantly less expensive than a motor vehicle and bicycles translate to more officers on the beat and more bang for their buck.
I still recall a time when the Kenya Police wore a uniform of khaki shorts, were respected for their general efficiency in fighting crime and directed traffic from little podiums at junctions before the arrival of traffic lights or robots as they call them here in South Africa.
Perhaps I am looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles but I cannot remember anyone complaining about the police either harassing them or saying they could not report to the scene of a crime because they had no car or worse still, no petrol in their car.
Perhaps if they are all given bicycles these excuses will die out. Use it or lose it, as they like to say in the corporate world, but perhaps the bicycles are an idea whose time has returned.