Lt. Anthony Beverly with one of the new Felt bicycles.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Police Department has had a bicycle patrol program for nearly 20 years — and that's about how old its bicycles were.
Thanks to Greylock Federal Credit Union, the force now has two brand-new Felt bikes worth about $1,190.60.
"The old bikes, the newest one we had I had as a kid," laughed Officer Nicholas Kaiser. "So, they needed upgrading and this is definitely a very large upgrade."
The department's bike patrols have been spotty over the years, their availability dependent on staffing and scheduling. The biking patrols were tried again last year but staffing, again, had been an issue.
Police Chief Jason Wood said the force is a little low at the moment, largely from retirements, but by the time next summer comes around, there should be nine new officers who will have completed the academy by February.
"Our staffing will look much better than it does now and, hopefully, I will be working on a program to get the bikes integrated in," the chief said. "Right now it's going to be as needed and when people are available."
Still, there are seven officers trained on bicycle policing and Lt. Anthony Beverly has been involved in efforts to sustain the program for years. At one point, they put racks on the backs of the cruisers so they could drive to different neighborhoods, take the bikes off and patrol. Officers have also been active in teaching youngsters about safe bicycling through programs in the schools.
"I love the bike program, I really do," Beverly said. "This right here is a vital part of our mission to get out there and interact with the community, to get out there and be approachable and visible within the neighborhoods. ... It's effective, it's very effective."
The officers are highly visible in their neon yellow shirts and being on bikes offers a friendlier opportunity to relate to children and residents. Plus, Beverly said, being on a bicycle lets officers see and hear things they wouldn't normally see and hear in a cruiser.
"It's good for the community, people are more relaxed around the bikes, they're very approachable, instead of a cruiser driving by," Wood said. "It's good for crime deterrent, too. You'd be surprised what you can find when you're riding a bicycle."
Wood recalled there was a bike unit back in 2001-2002, about the time he joined the force part time.
"The things that they would come up on were unbelievable," he said. "And I can only imagine what they'd find now."
The chief said Beverly and Kaiser had really pushed to keep the bike program going so this donation was a good shot in the arm.
"We're able to get out and get the exercise and for interacting with the community, people are a lot more likely to come up to us on a bike than a patrol car," agreed Kaiser.
The Felt bikes are dark charcoal and lightweight. They have small lights on the front that can blink and strobe and are outfitted with bike bags and water bottle holders. Beverly said the narrow tires make them more efficient and they have hydraulic brakes.
The bicycles were sourced and outfitted by The Spoke in Williamstown.
"This is our house brand. We trust Felt more than any other company that we have," said store manager Heidi Cooper. "For quality, efficiency, and they're light. They have never let us down."
JamieEllen Moncecchi, vice president for administration at Greylock Federal, said the need for the bicycles was brought to her attention by a resident.
"They were a little bit on the older side, 20-plus years," she said. "They were seeking some new bikes. I had a great conversation with the chief ... I just think it's a win-win situation.
The resident was James Holmes, a bicycling enthusiast who also partnered with officers to create "Running With the Law," Saturday morning runs with middle school students and officers through the streets of North Adams.
Beverly said he still has youngsters coming up to him to say they remember running with him.
"That pays dividends," he said, and hopes to really "hammer" the bike program "to get into the neighborhoods and immerse ourselves."
The bikes were debuted Thursday evening at the weekly "Downtown Bike Around," an open group that invites bicyclists to ride around the city and learn safe practices. Nearly a dozen participants, including Mayor Thomas Bernard, were preparing to take off from St. Anthony's Municipal Parking Lot.
Bernard thanked Greylock officials and The Spoke for outfitting the officers to make them safe and able to serve the community.
"We talked a lot, when we were looking at the future of the department, about community policing and what it means to be out in the community, to be out in the public making these kinds of connections," the mayor said. "And you know, a bike might not seem like a big thing but it has a big impact on quality of life and as this program continues to roll out, it's just more visibility for our officers and another great extension of that commitment to community."
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