Downtown Bike Patrol Route Officer Susan Warner, 44, is currently Winston-Salem Police Department’s only female bike patrol officer. She joined the police force at age 40, after sixteen years in marketing and promotion with Marriott International, Inc.
A long-time Winston-Salem resident, Warner has worn multiple hats throughout her lifetime: a North Carolina State University graduate with a degree in business, a wife, and mother of two. However, after a shift in careers, Warner added a bike helmet to the mix- applying to the Winston-Salem Police Department without considering it to be a serious option. Four years later and Warner continues to feel called to the bike patrol.
“20 years from now, I want to be able to look back and feel like I did something with my talents,” said Warner.
On a recent Saturday night, Warner answered a call about a panhandler at the downtown Mellow Mushroom around 6:45 that evening. Protecting herself from the chilled evening with a long sleeve uniform, Warner grabbed her helmet, left the bike patrol office, and the Saturday evening patrol began.
Once she finished explaining to the restaurant employee her inability to arrest the panhandler, due to the witness being a civilian, Warner glided through the downtown streets until reaching the Fourth Street Parking Deck and climbing till reaching the top, exposed level. Using the vantage point to look the panhandler, Warren paused between surveys of the street below- taking time to enjoy the beautiful hues of orange and blue of the sunset from the top of the parking deck.
Cases, like the one on Saturday evening, are her favorite as she said she enjoys tracking law-breakers on the bike, describing it as “the ultimate game of hide and seek.”
After an unsuccessful search for the panhandler, Warner looped down the levels of the bike deck, enjoying herself as she took the turns sharp and quick while playfully aiming for speed bumps. She then pedaled towards In n’ Out Convenience Store, explaining that the panhandler, with whom she had previous incidents, often brought the panhandled money here to purchase alcohol.
Finding the store closed, Warner then pedaled across the street to the Shell gas station. Smiling warmly, Warner greeted everyone in the store, some by their first name, asking about their families and neighbors. While she was chatting with the clerk, the man she was looking for stumbled in- unaware of her presence.
Slipping behind a shelf filled with chips and soda, Warner quietly watched as the man purchased a 40-ounce beer and later returned to fumbling through the aisle of snacks.
“He’s shoplifting! Empty your pockets!” shouted the store owner, running from the back of store from where he was watching surveillance videos.
Warner calmly walked over to the man and pulled two cans of sausage from his pockets before putting him in handcuffs. Warner respectfully answered a mixture of the shouting pleas from the man, the outbursts from store patrons, and the confused and fumbled apologies from the store owner, who became worried about the effects of the arrest on his business.
“This is not a decision for you to make,” Warner responded to the owner in an assertive, but controlled voice. “I gave this man a ticket last night for panhandling, he’s been reported for panhandling again this evening, and he shoplifted food while using money to purchase alcohol. It’s time for me to take him in to jail.”
The Winston-Salem Downtown Bike Patrol, a special task force within the Winston-Salem Police Department, covers the downtown area daily, with each squad permanently assigned to the same section. This consistency, along with monthly safety and restaurant roundtable meetings, allows Warner and her fellow officers to meet and interact with residents and business owners on a regular basis. Covering the same area within a small downtown community means calls often strike close to home.
Last winter Warner answered a call in which a volunteer at an overflow homeless shelter was stabbed by a homeless man. As her fellow officer handled the detention of the perpetrator, Warner sat with the victim until the ambulance arrived on the scene.
“I just held him while we waited for the ambulance- trying to stop his bleeding and praying with him until help arrived,” said Warner. “Thankfully he ended up being okay.”
Warner ended her Saturday evening in the bike patrol office, sharing dinner with two of her co-workers and laughing about the daily antics within the office.
“All of the officers are here for the same reason I am,” said Warner. “We’re here to help.”