New mountain bikes help Meriden police become closer to the community

MERIDEN — Officers in the neighborhood initiative unit are riding easier with new mountain bicycles, the first new bikes in decades.

Lt. Steve Lespier, commander of the neighborhood initiative program, said Chief Jeffry Cossette approved the purchase of nine new mountain bikes from the asset forfeiture account. New uniforms for the officers who will be riding them were purchased as well, Lespier said.

The plan is to have seven or eight of the officers on the bikes by next week riding through some of the common patrol areas such as Pratt Street, Mills Memorial Apartments, Twiss Street and the general downtown area, Lespier said.

All of the officers riding the bikes have to be certified, Lespier said. Three or four officers are receiving their certification this year. All others were certified last year. Officer Chris Griffin has been riding bikes as a part of his beat for six or seven years, having come to the Meriden department after five years with the Greenwich Police Department. Griffin said an advantage of the bike is making the officers more visible and approachable.

“When people see a car go by you get a wave or a look,” Griffin said. “With the bike people flag you down and talk to you.”

The neighborhood initiative program was revived last year with support from Cossette, Lespier said. The community responded with great feedback from the residents, Lespier said. Neighborhood initiative officers commonly attend neighborhood association meetings to learn about issues in their particular areas and how to help.

“The chief supports the community policing whole heartedly,” Lespier said.

Residents were excited to have the officers on the bikes and more connected to the community, Lespier said. The bike gives the officer the speed they need when responding to calls, but allows for much more personal contact, Griffin said. The only problem with the bikes comes with bad weather, Griffin said.

The nine officers and supervisors, Sergeants John Mennone, and George DelMastro, and Officers Christopher Griffin, David D’Onofrio, Christian Rodriguez, Brian Wilkinson, Vasco Lacerda, William Rogers, Michael Hadvab and Michael Ford each have a specific bike frame fit to their measurements. The total cost of the bikes, equipment and uniforms came to $26,780, which was approved on April 7.

The department received the bikes a few days ago and officers have slowly been getting a feel for the new equipment.

Griffin said the new bikes are a big improvement over the previous ones, which were between 15 and 20 years old. They ride smoother and are much quieter, allowing for more discreet patrolling when needed, Griffin said.

The department plans to have all nine officers take to their bikes at the same time for neighborhood sweeps, Lespier said. The neighborhood initiative officers carry the full gear that they would have while on patrol in a vehicle, but if an arrest is made, a cruiser is requested to transport the person, Lespier said.

The bikes also allow officers to get to know every route on their beat, including small alleys and passages where they may need to chase a suspect, Lespier said.

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