Bikes with a Badge

E-bikes are a crowd-pleaser for Hillsborough Police Department

Monday, Sept. 11, 2023
Image of police officers with e-bikes.
Hillsborough police officers get ready to ride the department’s e-bikes during the Fairview Community Spring Fling in April.

The Hillsborough Police Department is finding an unexpected benefit to adding electric bikes to some of its patrols.

“People think they’re kind of a cool thing,” said Sgt. Scott Foster, who heads up the Community Action Team for the Police Department. “I don't think I've ever been out on these e-bikes and not been approached by somebody who asks about them. It kind of humanizes what we do.”

Many of Hillsborough’s most desirable features involve the outdoors. Whether hiking Occoneechee Mountain, grabbing barbecue at Hog Day or catching a live musical performance during Last Fridays, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in a remote location or surrounded by a lot of people. Such amenities treasured by the town can pose a problem for first responders.

“Patrol vehicles are large, imposing and can be unable to get to areas that are inaccessible to cars,” Foster said. “They’ll be stopped in their tracks.”

E-bikes, though, are nimble and more maneuverable around obstacles and through crowds. The three e-bikes used by the police are mountain terrain rated, which enables them to be ridden into wooded areas and fields.

And while the department hasn’t made any arrests through its use of the e-bikes, Foster said the technology is allowing an aspect of surveillance that officers may not get from a patrol vehicle.

“There are times when an e-bike is there and people don’t even realize it,” Foster said. “The moment a patrol car pulls in, it stands out like a billboard. Even though we’re visible on the bikes, the average bad guy isn’t thinking about them.”

The e-bikes frequently are used for community events and in response to community issues. If a neighborhood is experiencing a problem with vandalism or drug activity, the e-bikes can be used to patrol an area without drawing as much attention.

The department added the Pedego e-bikes in 2021. Each cost about $4,200 and were paid for through a combination of community grant funds from the Orange County ABC Board and the town’s general funds. The bikes are equipped with a rear-wheel-mounted pack with safety and first-aid supplies.

The e-bikes are available to all officers who have received training. While it can look as easy as riding a bike, the e-bikes are equipped with a throttle-assist technology that provides a power boost which can be surprising to anyone not expecting it. The officers need to be familiar with how different terrains affect the additional speed. They also must know more typical bike rules, like hand signals and wearing helmets.

When not in use, the e-bikes are at their charging stations. They have an estimated range of 38 to 76 miles on a full charge and can travel up to almost 30 miles per hour, according to the Pedego website. Foster said officers have yet to wear out a charge during a use.

He added that the e-bikes have been a valuable addition to the Police Department and that officers are continuing to find ways to expand their use, including taking part in searches when someone is reported missing. He also hopes to build on the positive reactions the e-bikes have received from people around town.

“When the e-bikes are there, there’s more of a personal connection,” Foster said. “They’re not seen as a barrier.”

Got a question about the Police Department’s community action team? Contact Foster by email or by phone at 919-296-9563.