Tammy Koniski was riding her bike along Rockville's busy North Washington Street when the driver in front of her appeared lost, and she pulled ahead and offered to help.
The motorist at first brushed her aside. But a closer look revealed the seal of the City of Rockville on Koniski's shirt and a gun strapped to her hip.
Koniski, the driver realized, is one of Rockville's pedaling police.
"I guess it takes people by surprise," Koniski said. "They're not used to seeing cops in shorts -- on bikes."
Begun last month as a way to bring police into areas usually off-limits to the department's bulky white sedans, Rockville's bicycle patrol is the area's latest innovation in law enforcement.
Five days a week, Koniski and her partner, Officer Richard Siegelman, put on their helmets, fill up their water bottles and take a 30-mile ride through Rockville's alleys, streets, footbridges and parks.
Koniski is a sports enthusiast and Siegelman is a competitive bodybuilder, so the two don't complain of being tired or sore. They make up the routes as they go, looping through downtown parking garages, slicing through the city's 43 parks or weaving through countless parking lots in search of a shoplifter.
Koniski, 27, and Siegelman, 26, both two-year members of the force, devote special attention to the parks, a conveniently secluded setting for drug deals, and to the Rockville Pike shopping strip, where more conventional attempts to catch a thief can be thwarted by a traffic jam.
Rockville Police Chief Terrance Treschuk came up with the idea for the bicycle patrol after hearing of the success of similar programs in Seattle, Las Vegas, East Hartford, Conn., and most recently in Virginia Beach.
The Maryland-National Capital Park Police and other local law enforcement agencies use bicycles in undercover operations, but the Rockville force is believed to be the first in the area to put bicycle-riding officers on daily patrols.
"It suits our community-oriented philosophy of policing," Treschuk said. "We can get out there and be better seen by the residents, talk to them and get into areas where police maybe haven't been enough of a presence."
It's the opportunity for daily face-to-face contact with residents that Koniski and Siegelman say prompted them to leave more routine police work and apply for the unexplored rigors of the bicycle patrol.
"It's great to get out of the car and actually talk with the people you work at this job to protect," said Siegelman. "And I can honestly say I'm in phenomenal shape, so I love it." After work, Siegelman goes to the gym for two hours of weight training.
Koniski had planned to bike to work, but decided not to when she began pedaling on the job.
The program is intended as a two-month experiment, but the officers and Treschuk hope it will continue next spring. The 21-speed, $500 mountain bikes were donated by a store and bicycle manufacturer. The uniforms and special equipment for the bikes, including lights, racks, repair kits and extra-soft seats for the extra-long rides, have cost the city about $1,000.
So far, the officers have made one arrest, for disorderliness, and have written dozens of parking and traffic tickets in the Town Center area.
The decision to bring the program back in the spring, Treschuk said, will be based not only on hard numbers, but on community response, which so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
Koniski said she feels as if the promise of the program is in the hands of her and her partner.
"Every day, we figure, we'll make it or break it," she said. "People are still sort of curious about us and caught off guard. But I think it's just a matter of time before we're an ordinary part of the force."