by Ellen Cronin
Police rolled out the new bicycle patrol for the first time over the holiday weekend, starting what Chief Mark Montminy hopes will become a permanent part of his department.
Franconia is experimenting with the idea this summer and into foliage season, seeing if the patrol in this small town could be as effective as similar patrols in larger communities nearby, like Littleton and St. Johnsbury. Townspeople authorized the experiment by a unanimous vote in March, allowing some surplus cash in the town coffers to pay for uniforms and equipment.
Also, the department received some equipment through donation, including a pair of mountain bikes from Cannon Mountain, which Montminy described as "a real nice thing for them to do for us."
The patrol will have its emphasis in the downtown area, especially Main Street (Route 18) and the Easton Road ~oute 116). But Montminy says they'll cover other areas too - he didn't want to specify which - as a deterent to crime.
Responding to a call on two wheels may not be as rapid as on four wheels (such as a cruiser), but as bicycle patrols in other towns have proven, a bike can go some places a car cannot.
"Part of this is public relations, too," Montminy explained. "It's easier for people to approach an officer when he's not confined in a car. Hopefully, this will help people to get to know the officers better."
The chief sees another bonus: better physical fitness for his force. Montminy says the majority of the officers in town have taken to riding offduty as well, so they're getting the regular exercise.
The holiday festivities, including Saturday's parade through downtown, gave residents a chance to see the patrol in action. "We'll keep it up for the rest of this summer, and if it works out, we'll try to do this every summer," said Montminy.