New police bike patrol unit ready to roll in Chatham-Kent

Chatham-Kent Police Service Constables Chris Reynolds, left, and Kim Pfaff, are among the local officers trained to serve on the new Bicycle Patrol Unit approved during Tuesday's police services board meeting. Ellwood Shreve/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network Ellwood Shreve / Ellwood Shreve/The Daily News

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The Chatham-Kent Police Service is bringing back bicycle patrols to help increase officer presence everywhere from downtown areas to nature trails while improving opportunities to engage the community on a more personal level.

The roughly $10,600 cost to create the new bike patrol unit was approved during Tuesday’s Chatham-Kent Police Services board meeting.

Describing the benefits, Chief Gary Conn said the new unit “can assist with officer visibility during downtown patrols, at special events and open up the lines of communication between citizens and officers.”

He said three options were examined, including outfitting four new sworn officers – the most expensive at $513,000 – adding four special constables, or using 10 existing officers from among the four platoons in the community patrol branch, which was by far the lowest cost.

Administration was mindful of the importance of maintaining a fiscally responsible organization while continuing to look for efficiencies to ensure that we are providing optimal customer service to our community,” the chief told the board.

He noted the bike patrol unit – officers on bicycles that have red and blue emergency lighting – will be used in all the communities in the municipality.

I like the fact it’s not just going to be a Chatham (patrol),” said Chatham Coun. Marjorie Crew, who serves on the police services board.

She noted the unit is not just going to be used at parades and other special events.

This is a real patrol unit,” Crew said.

Mayor Darrin Canniff, who also sits on the board, said he believes the bike patrol unit “will be received very well by the public.

I look forward to seeing it in action,” he added.

Sgt. Doug Cowell, who was responsible with developing the unit, said the 10 officers who requested this assignment are “really pumped.”

Noting he was part of a bike unit that existed 15 years ago with the police service, Cowell said officers “do enjoy it.

“Now you have a chance to interact with everybody, where you don’t always get the chance in the car,” he said.

He said there are advantages to having officers on bicycles in some instances when pursuing suspects.

The bikes can obviously go in areas where the cruisers can’t,” he said.

If a suspect is cutting down alleys or through yards, a bike patrol officer has a better chance of catching up than if they were chasing on foot, Cowell added.

Only so many officers could be accommodated as part of the unit’s startup, Cowell said, adding two of the 10 officers will become trainers.

Once they’ve accomplished that, we can train more officers within the service that are interested,” he said.

Cowell said five bicycles of varying sizes have been purchased for the new unit, providing the opportunity to have more officers on bikes at large community events, such as WAMBO in Wallaceburg.

The community engagement part is most important,” the sergeant said.