This article is the thirteenth in a series profiling the varied and amazing nominees for the 2009 Alice B. Toeclips Awards, which will be presented to five winners at the Alice Awards & Auction on March 7th. We won’t be able to profile everyone, so read the nominees’ descriptions online. This profile was written by BTA correspondent John McLaren.
Portland Police Officer Robert Pickett is a self-effacing, quiet person who has nonetheless taken on a leadership role among Portland bicyclists. His position is unique – he is a police officer, a former bike messenger, and a recreational cyclist – and to that position he brings a unique blend of tact, patience and sophistication.
“Portland is lucky to have such a friend to bicycling on its police force. Robert Pickett is a brilliant diplomat, an advocate, and a fun guy to ride a bike with,” says one admirer. “His diplomacy is apparent in his contributions to bikeportland.org, where he frequently lends a police officer’s perspective to various bicycling issues.”
Pickett’s work to promote safer cycling and police bike patrols is well reported on BikePortland.org, along with the guest columns he has published there. Jonathan Maus, who edits BikePortland.org and is himself a past Alice Award winner, describes Pickett as “a true community police officer [who] obviously loves his job.” Pickett sees bicycling as a great tool for community policing, but also a great tool for communities to stay in good health and good relations with themselves – and to therefore require less police help.
The Portland Police Bureau has formally recognized Pickett as a valued liaison to the bicycling community and he represents the bureau’s on the radio, on panels, and in public meetings. Pickett is also a member of Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee.
To these more serious duties he adds a light touch: his patrol bike sports a pink squeaky-pig; he once joined a donut-eating contest at a Car Free Day celebration; and during last year’s Pedalpalooza he led a police bike skills course for anyone who wanted to try it out.
Pickett, 36, says he always wanted to be a policeman, an ambition fulfilled in May 2002, when he was hired by the Portland Police Bureau. “I liked the thought of working outside instead of behind a desk,” he says, adding that police work also appealed because of the variety of responsibilities and duties – including helping others.
Following graduation in 1995 from Carleton College in Minnesota, Pickett, a native of Indiana, taught English as a second language in Japan, an assignment that lasted 3 years. He then took the long way home, with month-long stopovers in China and Egypt and a year of additional travels by motorcycle in Europe, with trips home for the winters.
He returned to the United States in January 2000 and joined college buddies who were renting a house in Portland. His first job was as a bike messenger for Transerv Package Express, wearing the company’s distinctive red T-shirt while delivering letters and parcels in the downtown area.
After his Transerv stint he joined the police force, taking his penchant for bicycling with him. Pickett was instrumental in establishing the Southeast Portland Bicycle Patrol about three years ago. “Cops on bikes are very accessible to the public,” he says. “People can see you and talk to you, and it helps us build relationships with folks in neighborhood when we’re not surrounded by steel and glass.”
The Southeast Bicycle Patrol is the only such unit outside downtown Portland. Pickett has been a strong advocate for the patrols, testifying before the City Council and helping neighborhoods understand their function. He would like to see a police bike presence in other parts of the city, but the relatively high costs of setting up and maintaining a patrol make this hard for the bureau.
After coordinating the Bicycle Patrol for a few years, Pickett was assigned to the Southeast Precinct Neighborhood Response Team (which in all likelihood be broken up and distributed around the city when the Police Bureau reorganizes in response to budget cuts), where he helps neighborhoods solve local safety and livability problems.
Pickett commutes sometimes by car and sometimes on a Bridgestone mountain bike from his home in the Buckman neighborhood to his job at the Precinct. He also enjoys recreational rides along the Eastbank Esplanade and the Springwater Corridor to the Sellwood Bridge, and occasionally his wife joins him. He recently took the plunge and bought a cyclocross bike, so if you happen to miss him on patrol, at parades, in meetings or in the news, look for him racing in the mud next year!