CONCORD -- The transient's tent was some 50 yards down a steep slope of foxtails, weeds and clumps of dirt. And several hundred yards to the south was another one. Down another grade.
"You can imagine how different this would be," Concord police Officer Ken Trimble said, looking out over the edge, "if we had to go down there on foot. And, really, you can't do it with a patrol car."
With that, he revved the engine on his two-wheeler,¿ pointed the front wheel down the slope and maneuvered through the bumps to the tent, offering a short exhibition of expert dirt-bike riding, minus the jumps.
Such rides are commonplace now near the canals, parks and bike trails that mark the more rural parts of Concord -- Contra Costa County's largest city -- and in the alleys near downtown. The use of dual-purpose motorcycles, a hybrid of dirt bike and motorcycle, has returned to the city after a decade and allows police to go where they really couldn't go previously.
"A big addition to our efforts keeping the city safe," Lt. Bill Roche said.
The dual-purpose cycles have been around the city since September. As many as six officers are trained to ride them, and, ideally, six of the motorcycles could be out at any given time, Roche said.
But in just two months, police said the limited presence of the bikes has had a positive effect.
"We are able to be a bit more stealthy," Trimble said. "Without these bikes, the people in the homeless camps or the drug dealers in the remote areas of the park or alleys had time to see us coming. The school truants aren't able to avoid us. Thing is, a lot of times the mere threat that there could be a police officer present causes somebody to make a different decision than they might make otherwise."
Some officers went through training recently in the parking lot of the Sleep Train Pavilion, negotiating slow speed, tight turns and circles through a series of cones to simulate conditions on trails. Experts in the Alameda County Sheriff's Office conducted the training.
"About a decade ago, we had a single officer trained to do this, and he'd go around the city," Roche said. "When he retired, he was never replaced. So we've missed having this option as a part of our patrol."
Others have not missed it; namely, the very people who used the city's nooks and crannies to avoid detection.
"The kids that cut school are the ones who are really surprised to see us," said Officer Summer Galer.
She said that in early September, she and Trimble rode the cycles around the open spaces and came upon "10 of them in an hour and a half. We never could've done so previously ... What you hope is that when we show up where they don't expect to see us, it influences them to make the right decisions."
The patrolling of homeless camps is where the cycles have had the biggest effect, Trimble said. Homeless camps can be spread out for hundreds of yards, if not miles, along treacherous terrain. Transients also loiter near bike trails and in other "off-the-radar places," as Trimble puts it.
That's why Trimble was staring at such a steep ride late on an October morning just south of the Concord Avenue offramp from Interstate 680. In less than five minutes, Trimble made his way down the grade and up to the tent, looking as much like a professional dirt bike rider as a man with a badge.
"With the bikes, these places are really accessible for us, and that allows us to do our jobs, which is to keep people from being where the law says they can't be, and to make people using the public access trails feel safe," he says. "Without the bikes, it's a different story. That's just the truth of it."
Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789. Follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.