Watching Sgt. Stu Thomsen and Deputy Rob Miranda perform various maneuvers on their Safariland police-issued mountain bikes at the park adjacent to Yorba Linda Police Services, it’s easy to imagine them in race mode – geared up and going against competitors in bicycle motorcross.
Though Thomsen and Miranda are both officially retired from BMX competition, their respective 20-year careers have left them with a level of cycling expertise that’s become quite useful as members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department bike team.
“People don’t expect to see a cop [riding]on a bicycle,” said Thomsen, who began BMX racing in 1972 when he was about 15.
The department’s bicycle unit has members spread throughout the county – Miranda is Yorba Linda’s bike team member and Thomsen works out of the North Operations Division in Santa Ana, which covers unincorporated areas of the county. The two also serve as instructors for the OCSD’s bike training course, open to the sheriff’s department as well as other agencies, and taught three times a year.
“It’d be hard to find another Stu Thomsen on a police bike,” said Miranda. “He’s got a lot of years under his belt.”
Thomsen, a BMX legend, retired from competition in 1988. He opened a bicycle store and ran it for eight years before deciding on a career change. While running his shop, he did repairs for local police departments and got to know many officers. Then he had a neighbor who worked with the Fullerton Police Department and he got to learn a bit about working in law enforcement from him. He was hired as a sheriff’s deputy in 1994.
And he was no stranger to many of the deputies at the agency – one even had a poster of him from his BMX years.
“It’s kind of humbling,” said Thomsen.
It was actually Thomsen’s entry into the police force that inspired Miranda to also work in law enforcement.
“If it was good for Stu, it was good for me,” said Miranda.
Miranda started BMX racing in 1988, when he was 11. His professional career took off in the late 1990s, culminating at the 2002 X Games.
“That was definitely the pinnacle of my career,” said Miranda.
When his time came to retire from BMX fame, he started learning about what other former BMXers were doing. He found out about Thomsen’s job at the OCSD – and about bike patrol and all the other specialties, like K9 and helicopter units, the department has to offer. He joined the agency 10 years ago.
“We have people in this department that are doing things that I didn’t even know we had,” Miranda said.
The department’s bike patrol team is an ancillary unit, meaning its members are not on bikes full-time. They are used for special events, crime suppression and community policing. They patrol the parking lot of the OC Fair & Event Center during the OC Fair, riding upwards of 30 miles per shift, and work Fourth of July events, for example.
In terms of crime suppression, Miranda said, if there was, say, a rash of vehicle burglaries in a certain area of Yorba Linda, they could put together a bike suppression team for night patrol – which is less visible.
“It’s a lot easier to sneak up on people,” Miranda said of bike patrol. “It’s just a different type of tool we have.”
Plus they can access paths and horse trails – which are common in Yorba Linda.
“We’re a little more stealth,” said Miranda. “We can go [more]places than the car can and someone on foot.”
It does take a good level of cycling skills and fitness to be on bike patrol, considering the large number of miles traveled – plus all the police gear and equipment on the bike.
Though both Thomsen and Miranda are retired from BMX competition, they are far from done with cycling. Miranda switched over to road bike competitions, which he does regularly, while Thomsen continues to “play” on his mountain bike.
“I just like to keep vested on all my cycling skills,” Thomsen said.
Since the two former BMX competitors joined the department, others have followed suit.
“That’s really cool to think Stu’s decision has affected others,” Miranda said. “It made my decision a lot easier.”