PITTSFIELD — Boots on the ground are getting a leg up at the Pittsfield Police Department.
This week officers are rolling out new electric mountain bikes, which they say get them biking the beat, allowing for face time with the public without sacrificing response time.
In some cases, Lt. Jeffrey Bradford said, the electric wheels can cut through alleyways and get to a downtown scene faster than a cruiser.
"This has all the benefits of the downtown foot patrol," he said, noting his ability to interact with more people while patrolling. The added benefit to bikes over boots, he said, is "we can get from point A to point B much quicker" when emergencies break.
The three new bikes, purchased with grant funds at a price of $2,950 each, are Quadrini's Caesar 500, with pedal assist up to 30 mph and a throttle. Dave Clark, co-owner of Berkshire Bike and Blade, said the highest class civilian grade goes up to 28 mph and does not have a throttle, which powers the bike without pedaling.
"It's in a class of its own," said Clark, who's providing technical assistance with the new equipment.
Plus, he said, civilian bikes don't come with lights and sirens.
Bradford said the department has six traditional mountain bikes, which a few officers used last summer on downtown beats, but the electric ones help officers get places faster without tiring out over the course of a shift. The new fleet also came with new mountain bike training, which officers completed last month, expanding the number of certified bike patrol officers to 12.
Bradford said the effort amps up the department's ability to interact with people more regularly, and build more relationships.
Over the past year, many in the downtown community called for more community policing as a means to address crime in central city areas. The department doesn't have the ranks to staff a walking beat, Chief Michael Wynn has said, but over the winter he rolled out a "park and walk" initiative to get officers out of the cruiser for brief periods during their shifts.
With the new motorized bikes, Bradford said officers can talk to people as they patrol and still quickly get to the scene of an emergency.
"You're able to talk to people, engage with people," he said. "You're not just going around with the windows up."
The department's bike patrol route spans from the Colonial Theatre to Berkshire Medical Center on North Street, and from First Street to Francis Avenue. The department uses bike patrols to monitor areas like parking garages and lots, sidewalks and parks, where it's difficult to access with a cruiser.
In these areas, he said, the department keeps eyes out for car break-ins, public drinking and drug use, among other issues. Plus, officers biking the beat can keep an eye out for fellow cyclists who aren't following the rules of the road.
"You see, you hear and you smell everything around you," Bradford said. "You don't get that benefit in the cruiser."
The fresh round of training was done through the International Police Mountain Biking Association, Bradford said. Patrolman Alex Sawicki, who attended the four-day training, said he and his colleagues learned how to maneuver the bikes through tight spaces, how to mount and dismount quickly, and how to use the equipment for effective community policing.
"You can meet a lot more people that way," Sawicki said. "They come up more often and tell us about things."
Amanda Drane can be contacted at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.