For Sgt. Mike Marks, serving on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) Bike Unit is about more than safety.
“Bike officers are truly ambassadors for the City of St. Louis,” he says. “For residents, businesspeople and visitors – sometimes we’re the only local officials they interact with in a day. We set the groundwork for how they see the city.”
The SLMPD Bike Unit was created in 1997 in response to growing foot traffic in Downtown St. Louis, to promote safety and ensure visitors have a positive experience when they come Downtown. A coveted role within the department, the 30-officer team is the only SLMPD Bike Unit dedicated to a neighborhood in the City of St. Louis – and is funded through the Downtown St. Louis Community Improvement District (CID).
“If not for the CID, there would not be a Downtown bike unit,” according to Sgt. Marks. “From the office we rent, to our uniforms and bikes – funding from the CID has made us what we are today.”
Sgt. Marks is a 33-year veteran of the SLMPD, and the most tenured sergeant on the department’s roster. He joined the bike unit in 2009 to support extra security Downtown during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in St. Louis. In the decade-plus since, the highlight for Sgt. Marks has been the relationships he gets to build while on duty – and it’s one of the reasons he’s considering delaying his retirement in a few years.
“A bike officer is much more accessible and approachable. I felt like I met more people in the first five days on a bike than five years in a car,” he explained. “It’s extremely rewarding.”
Sgt. Marks sees the bike unit’s role as a type of community oriented policing, a practice based on building trust and mutual respect between police and communities, and often lauded for effectively addressing underlying issues and negative patterns.
“Relationships are the cornerstone of our job,” says Sgt. Marks. “We know our residents, our workforce and even the transient homeless population on a first name basis. These relationships – these friendships – are so important.”
For Officer Cristina Widbin, it’s just those kinds of relationships that are uniquely possible on the bike unit.
“The community gets to know us as people, not just as a uniform, and that builds trust,” she says. “If something happens, people can feel a bit safer because they know who they’re calling for help.”
Officer Widbin joined the police force more than 12 years ago, and has been on the bike unit for nearly half that time. She’s enjoyed witnessing the city transform over her tenure.
“I’ve seen more and more lofts, hotels and restaurants opening up,” says Officer Widbin. “It feels like life is really coming back into the Downtown area – both day life and nightlife.”
Lucky for new and returning visitors alike, Sgt. Marks and Officer Widbin are on the job, committed to protecting the Downtown community. And as Officer Widbin points out, the Bike Unit is only one piece of the safety puzzle operating Downtown. In addition to her team, the district’s officers and private security officers are also on patrol, a collaboration of teams that can be felt across the entire Downtown core.
One of the best parts of the bike unit’s job is the opportunity to try everything Downtown St. Louis has to offer. Here are Sgt. Marks’ and Officer Widbin’s top recommendations to visitors who they meet on the street.
|Marks: Campbell House Museum
Widbin: St. Louis Riverfront
|Marks: He doesn’t drink coffee but says Lucas Park Grille has THE BEST iced tea
Widbin: Park Avenue Coffee
|Marks: Pi Pizza
Widbin: Carlos’ Hot Dogs
For more information on the CID and its important efforts to make Downtown an attractive place for businesses, residents, and visitors, visit downtownstl.org/downtown-cid.