Bicycle patrol volunteers help keep mall safe

  • Katherine Schiffner<br>For the Enterprise
  • Tuesday, February 26, 2008 6:17am

LYNNWOOD — Jason Ponik has almost all his Christmas shopping done, but he’ll still spend up to 40 hours in December at Alderwood Mall.

Most of the time, he won’t go inside.

The Bothell mortgage broker will be riding with other members of the Lynnwood Police Department’s volunteer bicycle patrol. While you’re shopping, they’ll be watching your car, ticketing drivers who illegally park in handicapped spaces and helping police spot crime.

“The mall is a very safe place, but just knowing there’s an extra set of eyes watching puts people at ease,” Ponik said. “Most of us look at this as a job. We take it that seriously.”

Last December, the bike patrol spent 92 hours patrolling the mall and nearby shopping areas. Volunteers expect to spend as much time there this year.

“The dedication of these people is just unbelievable,” Lynnwood police spokeswoman Trudy Dana said. “They’re a strong crime deterrent, especially during the holiday season.”

On the morning of Nov. 28, Ponik and volunteers Jim Gibbs and Keith Ost easily navigated their police bikes through the mall’s busy parking lot.

“We’re able to cruise into areas in the parking lots on days like today, and we don’t get held up by vehicles,” Gibbs said.

The three are needed as soon as they arrive. Michele Gocinski’s 16-year-old daughter accidentally locked the keys to their Subaru Outback inside the car. The two Redmond residents had been shopping all morning.

Ponik tried jimmying the lock on the passenger door, but couldn’t get it open. Gocinski eventually called a locksmith.

“Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose,” Ponik said.

In addition to aiding locked-out drivers, the volunteers also jump-start stalled cars and help shoppers find their vehicles — something that’s happened more often since Alderwood Mall added parking garages.

Later, the bike patrol is joined by volunteers Cheryl Tenny of Mill Creek and Julie McKagen of Lynnwood, who drive through the mall parking lot in a Citizens Patrol car.

The volunteers wear bright yellow department jackets, but they leave catching criminals up to police. They carry police radios to contact officers if they spot a crime occurring, Dana said.

Gibbs, 29, a computer software designer and tester, and Ponik said bike riding is a good workout.

“I do a lot of sitting at work. This makes a perfect exercise routine,” said Ponik, 29.

The bike patrol volunteers take the Lynnwood Police Department’s Citizens Academy classes and train with the bikes before they hit the mall for the first time.

The police department has one of the largest volunteer programs in the county. Citizens Patrol has about 70 volunteers. Of those, 17 do the bike patrol.

Ost, 51, saw the bike patrol at work last year and went through the academy in February.

“I really like helping people,” he said. “After Sept. 11, I realized that everyone needs to help out. This is my way.”

Katherine Schiffner is a reporter for The Herald in Everett.

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