McKenzie Maddox/Old Gold & Black
McKenzie Maddox/Old Gold & Black

WSPD bike patrol secures downtown

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 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. night patrol shift of the city.

From the moment he kicked back the kickstand, his head immediately went on a swivel and his senses became alert as he began roaming the streets, looking for panhandlers, disturbances and suspicious activity.

Officer Martin serves as one of the 12 members of the Winston-Salem Bike Patrol team who patrol the downtown area from roughly First Street to Brookstown Avenue all the way down Sixth Street over to the new Innovation Quarter and Arts District. The downtown Bike Patrol was started in order to combat the crime in the area and foster a safe atmosphere where people feel comfortable hanging out.

“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.”

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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.”

Downtown Winston-Salem resident Mike Tinch also says the effectiveness of the Bike Patrol job makes it an essential part of downtown.

“I think the bike patrol does a great job in keeping downtown, in my opinion, very safe,” Tinch said. “If anything, there should be more of them to give those guys who work so hard a break.”

Tinch said that he often sees Martin riding his bike along the city streets and first met Martin downtown while he was on patrol. He said they established a professional relationship and will sometimes enjoy coffee together when Martin has some time off.

“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.”

Yet there is more to Martin’s character than just what he does while in his yellow officer’s shirt.

Several 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 where he taught and later served as a resource officer in local schools in the 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 talk to people and control my temper in certain situations.”

Business owners, residents, common visitors and even repeat offenders wave and greet him as he circles the city streets on his bike.

Martin aims to bike about 10 miles per day even though most days he averages about five due to call volume.

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.”

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