Note: This blog is the second in a series of stories on the Huntsville Police Department’s Bike Unit, which will be on patrol during the Mayor’s Bike Ride on Saturday, May 1.
“Agile” and “dynamic” aren’t always used to describe a job, but Huntsville Police Sgt. Kevin Matthews is the embodiment of both.
The 18-year veteran now leads the City’s K-9 Unit, but he is also credited with revamping the Bike Unit. While the units are different, Matthews, 53, explained they are equally important to HPD’s overall mission.
Both also demand efficient communication with a partner, a point echoed by Sgt. Jean Aiton, a Bike Unit supervisor.
“Officers are very approachable on the bikes,” Aiton said. “One of the first things we look for are officers who work and communicate well with everyone. It’s our first job.”
Early love for bikes, dogs
Matthews’ love of all things on two wheels and four legs dates back to his childhood.
“The first bike I remember having was a BMX,” he recalled. “It was a Mongoose. Someone would end up stealing it, though. I’m fairly sure I knew who stole it, too.”
His first dogs were Zorro, a Schnauzer, and Bandit, a Lhasa Apso.
“Bandit liked to pick fights and Zorro would love to come to the rescue,” Matthews said. “Just great dogs.”
Rebuilding the unit
After being tasked with revamping the Bike Unit, Matthews said an early inventory check revealed some inadequacies.
“The equipment was old, the bikes were old and everything was just in poor shape,” he said. “We were able to secure 10 new bikes for the units.”
At that time, there were only four certified bike officers, including Matthews. Building a 16-officer unit required finding and training a dozen officers to do the job.
Asked if it was easier to train a Bike Unit or K-9 officer, Matthews grinned.
“It all depends on the officer,” he said.
Matthews said when it came to his own training, the process was just as intense. He attended a six-day bike instructor school in New Mexico in 2016. Long bike rides at high altitudes, along with extensive training sessions involving everything from apprehended suspects to patrolling in close quarter situations, were a part of the rigorous process to become a certified trainer and instructor.
With the dogs
Matthews, now two years removed from his Bike Unit duties, can now be found hanging out with a Boomer. Except it’s not a senior citizen, but instead a 110-pound Labrador Retriever that sniffs for explosives.
Boomer’s trained to be social and work around people. That said, he won’t turn down off-the-clock petting.
“When he is working, he is trained to ignore you,” Matthews said. “He’s on the job.”
When asked which officers generated a more excited public response – bike or K-9 – Matthews didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“The dog,” he said. “It’s always the dog.”