Joel Zwicky is one of those rare creative souls who manage to bring a touch of originality into everything they do. A former photographer and musician, Joel has worked as a patrol officer at the Green Bay Police Department, in Wisconsin, for the past decade. Unlike regular officers, however, Joel prefers patrolling the streets on his super-cool skateboard.
“I kind of had the idea, like, two years ago, just because I like to skate and I was trying to figure out how I can do it more at work so that I can – you know, if you do what you love, you don’t work a day in your life,” Joel said in an interview with ABC News. The 40-year-old floated the idea to his department, but no one would take him seriously.
But earlier this year, when the department’s chief was looking for new initiatives to engage more with the community, Joel suggested the idea again. “And I said, ‘You know chief, I had this crazy idea in the back of my head what would you do if I brought my board to work and started skating it?’ And he said, ‘Can’t hurt. Just don’t get hurt please.’ So that’s kind of how it started,” Joel explained.
His ‘skating patrols’ began in March – he takes the board with him in his patrol car every day and drives around the city, answering calls. When the time is right, he breaks out the board, zipping through parks, school zones and local bike paths. By using the board, Joel actually helps his department access places that might otherwise have gone neglected. And if he’s needed in another part of the city, he can just stash the board in the front seat of his car again and be off.
The skateboard that Joel uses is modified to suit his requirements – it is mounted with red and blue LED lights and has larger wheels for a smoother, easier ride. So far, he’s made only one traffic stop on his board – he came across a motorcyclist who was riding on a cycling trail. “We were both pretty shocked to see each other that day,” he said. “There’s no motorized vehicles allowed on the path so we just both agreed to have a laugh about it and he would get back on the road where he belonged.”
Joel says that using the skateboard helps people warm up to him much faster. “Being in a squad car all day, it’s kind of like a barrier to the public and it can be intimidating to come up and talk to us. But when I go skating past them, even if it’s, ‘What the heck is that?’ or ‘What are you doing?’, then all of a sudden we’re both smiling and we can talk and they can tell me their concerns. When I am out on the trails patrolling people, I get a lot of selfies with people and things like that.”
“It’s really great at opening up doors as far as communication with people and beyond that it really, kind of, fits a niche that hasn’t been addressed in police work,” he added. Joel now wants to use his passion for skating to break stereotypes about law enforcement professionals and skateboarders as well.
“They’re so persistent,” he pointed out. “In their sport there isn’t a coach and there isn’t a time to show up for practice, but they put hours and hours in on this every day, falling down, getting hurt, getting back up, and the character that that sport builds has just been overshadowed by this stereotype of these kids being bad kids. You know, they’re absolutely to be admired.”
Joel now runs a blog called Skateboardcop, where he documents his experiences every day. “My mission is to try to get Skateboarders and Longboarders recognized as deserving equal rights to bicyclists and inline skaters on Wisconsin Roadways,” he wrote. “I think skateboarding needs a new narrative. The whole us-against-them thing is, you know, outdated too.”
“I certainly see that there’s challenges in breaking down some old ways of thinking,” Joel admitted. “I just hope that if I can conduct myself in a positive fashion, it’ll bring about some positive change.” He also encourages officers from other states and cities to consider adding more skateboard cops to their force. For now, though, Joel is pretty sure that he’s the “only one in the world who actually patrols with a skateboard.”