FEDERAL WAY, Wash. - Shoplifters and car prowlers are busy looking for victims during the holidays, but one local city is fighting back.
Federal Way is home to the Special Operations Unit, a six-officer police team that patrols on bicycles.
Since the team's debut in early 2010, assaults and robberies in the city have been cut in half.
Crimes at the busy Federal Way Transit Center are down 44 percent.
Police said this time of year is typically the busiest for downtown crime, when car prowlers, shoplifters and panhandlers target holiday shoppers.
“Their minds are focused on getting the deals, getting to the stores quickly and buying Christmas presents and different things, and they’re not realizing that criminals are watching them,” said Federal Way police Officer Joshua Haglan.
But the criminals are now being watched by officers on bikes.
“We’re riding through the parking lot as opposed to driving down the highway at 35 to 40 miles an hour,” said Officer Josh McConnell.
The officers said being out of their patrol cars makes them more accessible.
“You’re more personable and more approachable on a mountain bike,” said Officer Nick Peterson.
“It’s easier to walk up to a cop on a bike and ask for help or flag him down, than a cop in a car,” said Officer David Prince.
And the bike unit can go where patrol cars can't.
“We know the side streets. We know the alleyways. We know the trails,” said Haglan.
The officers of the bike unit patrol Federal Way seven days a week, and according to the numbers, are having a big impact on crime prevention, not only during the holidays, but all year.
“They believe, ‘Maybe I won’t break into that car because I saw the bike cops out earlier today,’ so it just creates the illusion that there are cops everywhere,” said McConnell.
The bike unit was established after two slayings at the Federal Way Transit Center near the main shopping mall.
Federal Way police said violent crimes in that area are now very infrequent.