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Bylaw bicyclists bust bad drivers
Added presence downtown part of increasing public visibility of police

Simon Whitehouse
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 20, 2014

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE
City bylaw officers have stepped up their bicycle patrols as part of a strategy to make themselves more visible downtown.

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Municipal enforcement division officer Trevor Absolon shows a parking lot behind the Yellowknifer offices, which has a number of abandoned vehicles. He says such vehicles invite downtown homeless people to sleep in them, as was the case last week. - Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

Trevor Absolon and Mike Garbowicz, along with city councillor Dan Wong, led a bike tour along Frame Lake Trail, through a number of alleyways in the downtown and along some problematic locations in the centre of town on Saturday morning. Within an hour, the two officers were seen giving directions to one pedestrian, using a whistle to pull over and ticket a driver for not wearing a seat belt, twice inspecting liquids being consumed and greeting people in the downtown core by first name.

All of it comes in the name of increasing police visibility and building public confidence in the downtown area.

During the ride, Absolon and Garbowicz identified off-trail locations along Frame Lake Trail which have frequently had active or abandoned squatter camps in the bush. The main concern is to deter the start of fires, especially this year with dry conditions in the area. Officers also use the opportunity to prevent heavy drinking, the build up of leftover garbage and live trees from being cut down and strewn.

Officers typically come across a camp a week during the summer months. Often the camps will come with small fires, which luckily haven't amounted to larger ones, according to Doug Gillard, municipal enforcement division manager.

Staying on top of the camps is important so the area doesn't lose its appeal.

"We usually get the community services department to come in and do the clean up, but if these places aren't noticed, some of them can grow to be quite large to the point where it can take a full day to clean them up," said Gillard.

Wong, who arranged Saturday's bike ride, is one elected official who has pushed for more of a police presence in the downtown.

Over the summer, the first of four municipal enforcement division officers were trained by the RCMP to perform bike patrols. The municipal presence adds to the seven RCMP officers who also provide patrols.

Council has asked both bylaw and the RCMP to provide statistics on the number of patrols done every month.

"This summer, we have seen an increased police presence and I would like to see that ramped up next summer," said Wong. "I just think it is the type of police work I like to see and Yellowknifers would like to see."

As long as the RCMP offers training courses, Gillard says the city continues to aim to have every officer do a foot patrol per shift, two bike patrols a week, and four to five shifts each week. Each bike patrol lasts about three to four hours.

The patrols are a way to build relationships between the municipal officers and the public, especially as municipal officers tend to get a bad rap given the nature of the work, Wong said.

The officers themselves embrace the idea and said it allows them to demonstrate they are working for and in the community.

"For me, I think it gets us out of the bubble of the car and to policing on a more personal level," said Absolon. He added the patrols allow officers to get to access points that might not be accessible by car.

Absolon and Garbowicz see the patrols as partly an education exercise where officers can go out and interact with pedestrians and inform them about aspects of the city dog bylaw.

"Part of enforcement is educational and it isn't always just handing out tickets," said Garbowicz. Officers also hand out reward coupons from McDonald's to children who are seen following safety guidelines, such as wearing bike helmets.

The officers also find bike patrols beneficial in enforcing bylaw infractions because biking gives them a better ability to approach a scene more silently.

Traffic-related incidents - such as using a cellphone while driving or speeding - can in some ways be spotted easier than in a car. During Saturday's bike ride-along, a van was pulled over near Thornton's Restaurant because the driver was not wearing a seat belt. This was done with the use of Abolon's loud whistle that he carries with him around his neck.

"It is a real surprise for the driver and the whistle not only alerts the driver, but provides for my safety as well," he said.

Absolon and Garbowicz say the reaction has been favourable from parents and they hope to hear from business owners in the downtown on the matter.

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