AMHERST – Michelle Harrison is trading four wheels for two this summer.
The veteran constable with the Amherst Police Department will be riding a bicycle while patrolling town streets as the department brings back its bicycle patrols.
“It’s a good way of being more visible in the community and is part of our commitment to community policing,” said Harrison.
Harrison attended a bicycle training session in Halifax last May. The course provided training in using a bicycle to police the community in all kinds of conditions.
Using a bike has its advantages, she said, in that she can access areas a four-wheel police vehicle can’t get to, while it’s also an effective way to quietly patrol certain areas of town. She said it’s also effective in working with children in the community.
Harrison, who is the department’s school liaison officer, has worked with children and developed a relationship with them. She said using the bicycle helps her maintain that relationship while develop a positive role model for safe bicycling.
“We have the Heads Up! Helmets On! program and this helps reinforce that,” she said. “The kids see me out there on the bike wearing a helmet it reinforces the safety message.”
Chief Ian Naylor said the department has used bicycles in the past to patrol the town. However, before bringing it back the department wanted to make sure any health and safety issues were addressed by sending an officer for training.
“It’s a lot different than operating a bicycle recreationally,” Naylor said. “There’s a question of the rider’s ability and what equipment is required. We decided that if an officer was going to do bike patrols they would need training.”
Naylor said the Halifax police department was contacted about training and Harrison was sent there to work with their officers.
He said he hopes more officers will be able to take training in future.
Naylor sees the benefits of bike patrols.
“They’re sort of like foot patrols in that the officer is outside the car,” he said. “It’s good in that there are less barriers between the officer and the public and it provides a positive image in the community. So far, the public has responded very positively.”
Also, with Amherst promoting itself as a healthy community and creating an active transportation plan with bike lanes on town streets, Naylor said using a bike patrol helps reinforce that message.