The busy pedestrian malls of Guatemala City and nearby Antigua may lack cars, but they now have units of bicycle police patrolling the streets.

The bike patrols are part of a national initiative in Guatemala to improve community-police relations and to keep locals and tourists safe from crime.

Police officer pushing man in wheelchair (U.S. Embassy Guatemala)
Supporters say people are more comfortable asking for help from officers on bikes. (U.S. Embassy Guatemala)

The objective of the bike patrols is to “better incorporate the officers into the community,” which builds trust, Nery Ramos, director general of the National Civil Police, said at the graduation ceremony for a new bike patrol unit in 2016.

Supporters say it is already working. The minister of the interior, Francisco Rivas, said crime against tourists has fallen due to initiatives like this.

The bike patrols started in 2015, when 26 officers traveled to the Miami-Dade Public Safety Training Institute in Florida for training. The officers, 16 from the National Police and 10 from the Municipal Transit Police, returned to Guatemala and trained more than 450 of their colleagues in the techniques used by police on bicycles.

Ramos laid out several obvious advantages, noting that police on bikes:

  • Can go where motorized vehicles cannot, which is important in cities that are crowded with busy marketplaces or pedestrian-only malls.
  • Have an easier time chasing down criminals on foot and apprehending them.
  • Use transport that costs police departments less than cars or motorcycles and requires less maintenance.
Police officer standing near bike and shaking man's hand (U.S. Embassy Guatemala)
By working in the communities, bike patrol officers get to know local citizens. (U.S. Embassy Guatemala)

What’s more these officers develop relationships with citizens. Because they are at eye-level and in the open, able to hear what is going on, people feel comfortable asking them for help or reporting problems.

After an initial donation of bikes and equipment by the United States, the Guatemalans have expanded the training. Now officers undergo tactical bike training, which includes how to use the bike as a shield or weapon in a dangerous situation and how to maneuver quickly in crowded streets.

Ramos plans to expand the program to more than 2,000 bike-patrol officers across Guatemala. Other countries in the region are taking notice. Costa Rica, Honduras and Colombia have all contacted the National Police to express interest in starting their own bike patrols.