By Parvaneh Pessian, June 22, 2014; MuskokaRegion.com (Ontario)
WHITBY -- Durham police are making safety a priority while rolling through the streets of Whitby this summer, but not in the way most people would expect.
Instead of getting around in cruisers, four officers on bicycles will be keeping a close eye on parks and greenspaces, as well as the downtown areas of Whitby and Brooklin, during June, July, and August.
“It’s a full-time dedicated unit to provide that highly visible, proactive police presence in the parks,” said Constable Jamie Bramma, a member of Durham Regional Police’s bike patrol unit.
“We have officers out there anywhere from the noon hour right up until 4 in the morning depending on the day and the time of the week.”
The initiative is part of the TAGG (trespass, alcohol, gangs and graffiti) unit that was launched in Whitby about eight years ago in response to a growing number of complaints about activities taking place in local parks and greenspaces. Some of the unwanted behaviour in these locations includes underage drinking, illegal drug use and vandalism.
“Those three things kind of go hand in hand and that’s definitely a priority for us,” said Const. Bramma, adding that the unit aligns with Central West Division’s Community Patrol Plan and the service’s commitment to having more officers on foot in the downtown.
The focus in these areas is on issues such as public urination and intoxication, as well as getting people home safely without any incidents once the bars close.
“Unfortunately, anywhere you get all these drunk people letting out of these bars at the same time, you’ve got that potential for property damage and the street level mischief that comes along with those types of activities,” Const. Bramma said.
“It’s a matter of managing that and allowing the businesses to function and turn a profit and allowing people to have a good time without getting too carried away.”
There are bike patrols in every police division in Durham but this specialized unit allows officers to rotate day and night shifts on bikes, getting as much access to the problematic areas as possible.
“I think it definitely eliminates that barrier of the police car and it makes us a lot more accessible and a lot more approachable,” said Const. Bramma.
“The fact that we can get into some of these areas that are not accessible by car means that we can get in to the areas where the youth are congregating, and there is an element of surprise if we need it because people quite often don’t realize we’re police officers until we’re right there on top of them.”
A major component of the project is the community policing aspect, he added, which involves officers getting out there and talking to people.
“So many people deal with the police when they’re having a very bad day; they’ve gotten a ticket, their house has been broken into, they’ve been victimized somehow,” he said.
“We want it to be a positive experience and we want our youth to be able to put a face to our names and get to know us because we’re not something to be afraid of. We’re out there keeping them safe and we want them to know that.”