AUSTIN, Texas - A local bicycle shop has canceled its contract with the Austin Police Department.
An APD officer said he was told a few employees at Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop complained about selling bicycles to police officers, so the shop decided to terminate the contract.
The APD downtown area command consists of more than 150 bicycle patrol officers and they purchase about 50 bikes per year from Mellow Johnny’s. For months now, during downtown protests, Austin police officers have used bicycles to block protesters from roadways.
“They're utilized to basically have a barrier between the officer and the protesters that's a little more open, it's not like a wall or barricade, so there is still some ability to interact or talk with officers. And the officers can also see a lot better into the crowd if they just have their bike in front of them,” said Jennifer Szimanski, a former APD officer and spokesperson for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
Officers have also turned to bicycle patrol to help block traffic when protesters move through the downtown area.
“The bikes definitely can be utilized as a temporary barricade or to follow protests if they're changing directions and blocking off traffic at the same time,” Szimanski said.
But tense situations between protesters and bicycle police have some in the community upset about the role bikes are playing.
Mellow Johnny's confirms they have canceled their contract with the Austin Police Department four years ahead of schedule.
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On social media, an APD officer claimed a sales manager said the decision was made because three employees did not like the way the bikes were being used for crowd control.
“It's definitely hurtful, I think, for officers to lose this type of relationship that they have with a business that they obviously have enjoyed over time,” said Szimanski.
She explained how bicycles are helpful in many ways for APD officers. They can respond to calls on hiking trails, they can get around downtown more easily and they're more approachable.
“It's the way that we most effectively conduct community policing because you're visible to the community. They can see you, you're not behind a steering wheel, you're not moving fast, you can be flagged down very easily,” Szimanski said.
Mellow Johnny's sent over official paperwork to cancel the contract with APD Wednesday afternoon, foregoing thousands of dollars in bicycle sales each year to make a statement to police.
“CLEAT, in general, we’re just concerned with the idea that certain sectors of our community have kind of given up on the police department. And, you know, our police department doesn't give up on them,” said Szimanski.
APD said they are currently looking for another vendor to provide bicycles for their officers.
Mellow Johnny's issued the following statement on the decision:
In the context of the current evaluation of community policing in Austin, we have decided to no longer purchase, re-sell, and service police-issue Trek bikes and accessories under a City of Austin RFP the shop was previously awarded.
We regret not publicizing our decision before it was presented by others on social media. It's difficult in these times to balance the needs of a business and a community. Our entire employee group was engaged in this dialogue and we delved deep into our community to understand how we could best do our part to keep our customers safe and this city moving in the right direction. These are certainly trying times and we understand people will object to any decision made along these lines.
Businesses can no longer be non-participants in the communities they serve. We chose what we think will do the most to suture these divides and place our community on the right side of history. We have had to make these choices before when we felt companies whose products we sold put kids at schools at risk of violence. We lost sales due to this choice. We also saw our former vendors later divest of holdings and we've returned to selling these products. We will live with the choices our customers make if they want to buy bikes and bike products somewhere else.
We are committed to the city of Austin and the community of cyclists that we serve every day.
We are not anti-police. We do believe our local police force will protect us from the very threats we are receiving right now.
We wish this entire community peace and progress and togetherness at the conclusion of these trying times. And we intend to be a part of the discourse, struggle, and growth for Austin, as we have since we opened our doors in 2008."