Woodstock residents and visitors can expect to see police officers travelling through the town on foot or by bicycle this summer.
Woodstock Police Force Chief Gary Forward encourages the public to stop and chat with the officers.
Forward, along with two members of the force's bike patrol, talked to the media on the Trans Canada Trail near the Woodstock Farm Market in the heart of downtown Monday afternoon, July 12.
The chief said the bike and foot patrols are a pivotal part of the department's ongoing efforts to increase the town force's visibility and transparency.
Constables Corey Porter and Shawn Kimball cycled across the walking bridge connecting the Trans Canada Trail on each side of the Meduxnekeag River, as Forward explained the bike and foot patrols' long-term goals.
"These officers will be working in concert with patrol officers who are conducting foot patrols and road checks throughout July, August, September, into October," Forward said.
He said the officers cycling and walking along town streets and trails are Community Resource Officers and Community Crime Reduction Unit members.
Forward said the officers are directed, at every opportunity, to stop and talk to the people. He said they want to hear from the public regarding their concerns about traffic through the town, whether it's pedestrians, cyclists or all-terrain-vehicle operators.
The police chief said the officers would relay the public input to the police department, who will convey the information to the Off-Road-Vehicle committee, and, in turn, to the mayor and council, who will decide regulations regarding traffic on town trails and streets.
The ad-hoc Off-Road-Committee, of which Forward is a member, already delivered a draft report to council. The mayor and council are studying the report and any additional information provided to formulate rules and regulations affecting off-road traffic in the town.
While the introduction of the bike and foot patrols is more about police visibility, Forward said, the information police gather becomes an integral part of the town's future decisions.
Since he took office in Woodstock, the chief said his goal was always to enhance visibility and transparency. While police officers on bikes are not new to the town, he said the long-range plan makes it a permanent part of the policing effort.
Forward said the information these officers garner during public interactions would strengthen the decision-making efforts of the Off-Road-Vehicle Committee and mayor and council.
He said town officials plan a question-and-answer session and publish a pamphlet over the next few weeks to deal with off-road traffic on the trails and streets.
"This certainly dovetails with the patrols and having some officers on the trails," Forward said.
Forward said the town would work with other law enforcement agencies and entities to develop its rules and regulations from a public safety perspective. He said that the Woodstock Police Force would partner with the provincial government off-road enforcement officers later this summer to carry out patrols in the town and utilize some of their equipment and methods.
While Forward said officers' current focus is on communication and providing information, it would require, over time, the enforcement of rules and regulations surrounding motorized traffic on town streets and trails.
"Eventually, enforcement will be necessary against those who will ignore rules," he said.
The chief explained ATV and Quad groups and clubs must play a role in policing themselves.
At present, Forward said, the Woodstock Police Force is not planning to add an all-terrain vehicle to its fleet of cars and bikes, at least not in 2021.
He explained such purchases are part of the budget process, so the mayor and council would make those decisions based on the potential off-road pilot project and the police department's equipment requirements in the future.
Forward said council's final decision on the implantation of an off-road-vehicle pilot project should come soon, and he's confident it will consider the greater needs of the community.
"If there are options that will serve the community as a whole, versus any one person or a select group, then ideally that's what they're looking for," he said. "I don't think any one option will resolve the issue, but I'm hoping that the input and feedback will ultimately get to where we want to be with this."
In the meantime, Forward hopes to see Woodstock residents and visitors interacting with police officers as they patrol on bikes or foot along the town's trails, parks, side streets and other public places.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun