Patrolling the Saanich Peninsula by bike

Sidney North Saanich RCMP uses bike patrols to increase visibility, crime prevention.

RCMP Auxiliary Constable Alan Neville-Rutherford watches for cyclists as Corporal Erin Fraser takes notes during a bike patrol in North Saanich and Sidney recently. Officers at the local RCMP detachment regularly get out on their bikes to better connect with the community and reach parts of the Peninsula easily accessible by bicycle.

The Saanich Peninsula is known as a destination for cyclists using the Lochside Regional Trail and the area’s back roads for recreation. There are weekends where Sidney coffee shops are bustling with the click-click of specialty biking shoes.

It’s only natural, then, that the local detachment of the RCMP would join in.

Recently, the PNR was able to ride along with two RCMP members — Corporal Erin Fraser and Auxiliary Constable Alan Neville-Rutherford — as they conducted a short bike patrol.

Each year, the local detachment hosts a course on cycling skills, specific to the task of patrolling by bicycle. Neville-Rutherford says the course lasts about a week and covers topics such as quickly mounting and dismounting, maneuvering a bike safely in tight spaces and down stairs and even how to safely dismount and draw a firearm, should the need call for it. The course is taken by both auxiliary and regular, full-time officers and they train up to the same standard. That allows auxiliary members to be able to ride with their armed counterparts, he explained. Fraser added that since last year’s shooting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, all RCMP auxiliary members must be accompanied by an armed regular officer when on duty.

Bike patrols, however, are decidedly more sedate on a day-to-day basis.

The philosophy, said Neville-Rutherford, is to increase police visibility in parks, trails and even on the street.

“We are closer to people and are more approachable on a bike,” he said.

Bikes are also a bit sneakier.

Should officers on a bike patrol come across something suspicious, he explained, bikes are quiet and, typically, people aren’t necessarily watching for a police officer on a bike.

During this recent brief patrol, Fraser and Neville-Rutherford were able to approach a few people they have come into contact with before.

The interaction was civil and despite having to ask someone to pour out a beer (it’s illegal to drink alcohol in public places), people seemed at ease and even shared a laugh with the officers.

While patrolling by bike can be more relaxed, police work is police work, no matter the vehicle they use. Preparation and precautions are important, from radio and equipment checks to making sure they are safe on local roads.

As recreational cyclists are supposed to do, the RCMP riders signalled at every corner and stopped at every controlled intersection.

At a roadside check, Fraser was able to ‘pull over’ a few cyclists, just reminding them that the rules of the road apply to cyclists, just as much as they apply to drivers of automobiles.

Neville-Rutherford, who has been an auxiliary member for 10 years, said he enjoys the bike patrols.

In 2013, he was a police rider in the Cops For Cancer Tour de Rock. And despite his years working the bike patrols, said that the 1,200-kilometre journey across Vancouver Island was still grueling.

The Sidney North Saanich detachment recently got new bikes, a standardized colour and build.

They will be shared by the officers and maintained by a pair who have been trained specifically in bike maintenance (in addition to their regular police duties).

Fraser said most who train to do the bike patrols receive maintenance training as well, adding it’s a nice luxury to have members able to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to working on the bikes.

While bike patrols are still part of the RCMP’s community policing focus, they also provide an opportunity for officers to connect with the public in different ways.

Officers on bikes can be most often spotted on patrol during the warmer months, but Fraser said they get out at various times of the year, including at Halloween and in November for Remembrance Day.

The PNR ride along gave a good street-level perspective of how local police interact with — and serve — the community.