Lowell police put pedal to pavement on community policing

By Lisa Redmond, The Lowell Sun, July 2, 2014

Photo:  Lowell police Officer Jim Matos, shown outside police headquarters at JFK Plaza, is part of the new 24-bicycle community-policing unit launched by Superintendent William Taylor this week. See a slide show on this story at lowellsun.com. Sun/ Bob Whitaker

LOWELL -- After nearly 14 years behind the wheel of a police cruiser, Lowell police Officer Christian Hanson is one of two dozen city officers who has traded his driver's seat for a bicycle seat.

"I love it," said Hanson, who rode 20 to 25 miles in one day patrolling not only city streets but the parks and other areas a police cruiser doesn't dare go.

"The response time is great and I can cover a large area," he said.

In the past, the department has only had one or two officers on bicycle patrols, said Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor. But with an emphasis on increased community policing, Taylor said this week he put 24 bicycle patrols on the road.

Taylor admits this is a "huge" increase in the number of bicycle patrols, but it is only one of aspect of his increased focus on community policing with the goal of getting more officers on the street interacting with the public.

"With the reorganization within the department, we are re-emphasizing community policing and continuing to roll out aspects of it," Taylor said.

Taylor, who was named superintendent in November, said in the past six months crime statistics show a 24 percent across-the-board decrease in crime in the city compared to the same six-month period last year.

To keep up the momentum, Taylor utilized $25,000 in grants and other programs, to purchase for the department new, specially designed Fuji bicycles, as well as refurbishing the department's existing Trek bikes and two Segways. A portion of that money was used to buy new uniforms and safety equipment for the 24 officers who volunteered and received special training for the bicycle brigade.

"The new uniforms have a more professional look to them," Taylor said. The uniforms are also lighter and have more safety elements, such as reflective strips throughout.

Taylor began planning the increase in bicycle patrols in January, but it took until recently to get the equipment, he said. Now that the bikes are on the streets, they will be covering all parts of the city, day and night, in most types of weather, until around Thanksgiving, he said.

Lowell police Officer Michael Camara, a 15-year veteran of the force, said of his new bike-patrol assignment, "I think it is great.''

Camara added, "It is pretty easy to stay in an air-conditioned cruiser with the windows rolled up on a 100-degree day." But doing a walking or bike beat allows officers to remove the "disconnect" between people and the police.

Since he has been walking, and now riding a bike, covering a large area centering on City Hall, Camara said people know him by name.

"All this opens the bridge of communication," he said.

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