This article was originally published on by Tim Hahn on April 29, 2018

The return of warm weather has the Erie Bureau of Police ready to send out special patrols on foot and on bicycles to advance its community policing efforts.

Foot and bicycle patrols, based out of the bureau’s mobile precinct, are returning to Erie’s Little Italy neighborhood. The patrols started in May 2016 through funding supplied by a $600,000 Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Grant that the city received from the U.S. Department of Justice, and they continued through the fall of 2017.

Funding for the Little Italy patrols was expected to cover two years. But there was money left over from the grant, and the city received approval to use the remaining amount to continue the patrols this year, Police Chief Dan Spizarny said.

“It will take us through the summer months,” he said.

Erie police Lt. Stan Green, who coordinates the Little Italy patrols, said the 173-member police bureau will once again send out city police officers and Erie County sheriff’s deputies to patrol the westside neighborhood and interact with residents twice a week, beginning the first week of May. The mobile precinct is parked at different locations in the neighborhood during the patrols.

Green said he expects the patrols to continue through the end of September.

Bureau officials have said that the foot and bike patrols have been effective in curbing neighborhood problems and addressing issues brought to the attention of officers and deputies by neighbors.

City police will also bring back bicycle patrols in the downtown area on weekdays starting Monday. The patrols, implemented in 2017 to replace a one-officer downtown foot patrol that started in 2012, will feature two dedicated officers riding in an area between Sassafras and Holland streets, from 14th Street to the bayfront. One of the officers will work an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, and the other will work from noon to 8 p.m., Deputy Chief Jon Nolan said.

The officers will primarily patrol on bicycles, but will do foot patrols during periods of inclement weather, Nolan said. The officers will also back up patrol officers when needed, he said.

Patrolman Jason Belton, who rode a bicycle downtown in 2017 and is returning to the assignment, said the bike patrols give police direct access to the public, and the public to police. He said the officers and business owners get to know each other, and the officers can address their concerns and issues.

“It’s beneficial because I think it makes us more approachable,” said Belton, who will be joined by Patrolman Sal Velez on the bike patrol detail.

John Buchna, the CEO of the Erie Downtown Partnership, said the bike patrols are a welcome return to Erie’s downtown, as the officers not only made a difference in keeping the area safe but also provided “just an energy” through their friendly and courteous service.

“They’ve done more than police protection, they just added a layer of service to those in need,” Buchna said. “They’ve given directions, lots of smiles, lots of conversation, lots of engagement. We’re very thankful.”

Nolan said additional bike patrols will be out in different locations at various times in the coming months, as members of the bureau’s Neighborhood Action Team and its saturation patrols are also certified to patrol on bicycles and will be riding on occasion.

Spizarny and Nolan said the bureau is exploring other community policing initiatives that could work with its current staffing levels.