While the sun began to set on the downtown Winston-Salem area, Officer Greg Martin slipped on his yellow Winston-Salem Bike Patrol jacket, fastened his helmet and clicked on his bike lights as he geared up for his 4p.m. to 2 a.m. night patrol shift.
Officer Martin serves as one of the 12 members of the Winston-Salem Bike Patrol team who patrol the downtown area from roughly 1st street to Brookstown Avenue, north to 6th street over and east to the new Innovation Quarter and Arts District.
“The Bike Patrol operates on exposure,” Martin said. “As we ride around, the people downtown can pick out the yellow shirts and see us interacting [with the community] which is what contributes to people feeling safe downtown and wanting to do business downtown.”
Souphab Daohaeng, the owner of the restaurant Downtown Thai, says the Bike Patrol creates a positive and friendly personality for downtown which attracts customers and makes him feel comfortable operating his restaurant on Fourth Street.
“The bike patrol takes a humanistic and personalized approach on policing and promoting safety in the community,” Daohaeng said. “They focus on safety rather than being the bad guys who just ticket you for petty things. Now if you break a law, you break a law, but they don’t go around just trying to enforce [their] power because they can.”
From the moment he kicked back the kickstand, his head immediately swiveled from left to right and his senses became alert as he left his office on Cherry Street and began roaming down Fourth Street looking for crime and suspicious activity.
Halfway through his ride, his walkie talkie dispatched him to the intersection of Fourth and Trade Street where a call reported a possible drug deal. As he pulled up to the scene, Martin said it was easy for him to tell who the subjects were because they both fit the description he was given from the call and they were both repeat offenders –meaning the Bike Patrol had previously ticketed them a handful of times for crimes like panhandling and drinking in public.
He began asking the subjects questions about why they were sitting outside in the cold and what their business was hanging out in the area. When they immediately became defensive saying they weren’t doing anything wrong and didn’t know why Officer Martin needed to talk to them, Martin later said he saw that as a cue they might be hiding something.
As another officer pulled up to the scene in a car. Both officers patted the subjects down and ultimately determined the subjects were clean. The officers told them to head home and lingered at the scene until they determined they were gone and it was appropriate to leave.
Because the call volume was low on a Monday night, he was able to cover more ground on his ride compared to a night with a lot of calls. While he rode along Fourth Street, business owners and people eating outside at the restaurants yelled hello from the sidewalk. One man who was walking with his wife even saluted him.
He rode over to the West End historic neighborhood, north to Fifth Street and then took a turn on Trade Street to circle back near the bus station. As he rode, people he said he had never met before even said hello. He talked to any and everyone on the street from strangers to familiar business owners and residents he knew.
The presence of the Bike Patrol has made Downtown Winston-Salem resident, Mike Tinch, say they are effective and an essential part of downtown. Tinch said that he often sees Martin riding his bike along the city streets and first met Martin downtown while he was on patrol.
“Officer Martin is absolutely a good fit for the bike patrol team,” Tinch said. “Every time I see him, he is very courteous to the people he is interacting with whether it be a panhandler on the street or just someone passing through the community. If anything, there should be more of them to give those guys who work so hard a break.”
However the Bike Patrol is not the only aspect of Martin’s life. Fourteen years before making his way onto the bike patrol team, Martin served as a Peace Corp volunteer teaching English to students in Mongolia.
“My time spent in Mongolia broadened my mind and perspective,” Martin said. “Being the outsider based on your appearance through the way you sound and the way you look and the fact everyone knows you are one of two Americans in the city, can create a sort of tension between becoming a celebrity and the enemy. Being able to adapt in those kinds of conditions can be stressful, but also useful.”
After he had served two years, he decided to continue living abroad –teaching English at schools in Korea. Three years later, he made his way back to the United States, moving back to his hometown of Winston-Salem where he taught and later served as a resource officer in local schools in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County district.
“I came into the police department at age 33, which is kind of late considering that you can join the police department at 21,” Martin said. “But I think my experiences and maturity have benefitted me in this job and help me to talk to people and control my temper in certain situations.”
Martin shoots to bike about 10 miles per day even though most days he averages about five miles due to call volume. He says that he enjoys the Bike Patrol because of the opportunity he has to have a hands-on impact on the community.
“The thing I like the most about the bike patrol is the open air and the ability to interact with people without the barrier of a police car,” Martin said. “I like the ‘doing’ aspect of it and I try to have a positive effect on people’s lives.”
As he circled back into the Bike Patrol office on Cherry Street after not seeing any matters that he needed to attend to at 8 p.m., he unbuckled his helmet and ate a quick dinner. Yet he kept his walkie talkie on loud knowing that he still had 6 more hours of his shift and the night had only just begun.